Annual Report to Symphony Space Members
On January 20, we hosted a free simulcast of the Presidential Inauguration on the big screens in our Peter Jay Sharp and Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatres, attracting a crowd of 1,000 people including Symphony Space members, neighborhood residents, and classes from local public schools.
Under the leadership of Associate Artistic Director (and composer) Laura Kaminsky, the focus of the music program is on contemporary works and in helping audiences enjoy the unexpected and unfamiliar. To this end, she introduced the new “Underscore” series of pre-concert conversations with performers and composers. Composers such as Joan Tower, David del Tredici, and others heard their new works performed for the first time, and artists Phyllis Chen, Michi Wiancko, and Martha Mooke brought distinctly new works to our stage. Traditions were also honored, including a new one: the complete Brandenburg Concertos performed by the Symphony Space All Stars. And Bach reigned again when Jeremy Denk performed the complete Goldberg Variations.
Our literature programs are among our most loved and best known. Selected Shorts: a Celebration of the Short Story alone reaches more than a half million people each month, and the book clubs’ popularity continues to grow. The Selected Shorts season began with Salman Rushdie presenting The Best American Short Stories 2008. It was followed by performances of dynamic stories read by our finest actors, including Parker Posey, Campbell Scott, Marian Seldes, Stephen Colbert, Mary Stuart Masterson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Rapp, Sonia Manzano and many more. Selected Shorts performances also took place in California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Texas, as well as other sites in New York State. We sold 8,900 CD collections of Selected Shorts, including four new anthologies.
The music season concluded with our popular free event, Wall to Wall Broadway: A Century of Musicals. Luminaries such as Hal Prince, Frank Rich, Donna Murphy, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Raúl Esparza discussed or performed memorable
In spite of economic hurdles, we are committed to making the arts accessible to everyone and using the arts to develop and bring together the community in an atmosphere of respect, understanding, and celebration. The many, many other wonderful programs at Symphony Space last season are briefly summarized below.
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The film season included 52 weeks of programming with a strong emphasis on classic films, but we discovered that audiences responded best to our new Thalia Currents series, which featured foreign and independent films and documentaries. We remain committed also to hosting important film festivals, which last season included the 16th Annual African Diaspora Film Festival and Reel Rhythms – The 5th NY World Music Film Festival: The Francophones. Opera in HD from Europe’s premiere music festivals and theaters really took off last season, with a new opera every few weeks. Opera fans reveled in this opportunity to enjoy work by some of the world’s top singers, directors, conductors, and musicians in the comfort of Symphony Space’s theatres. Ballet performances were also included from the La Scala and Bolshoi Ballets.
After a very successful appearance in our 2006/2007 season, the Keigwin Kabaret returned for a triumphant three-week run in the Thalia of a show that blended elements of vaudeville, burlesque and a little bit of Vegas for a refreshingly angst-free, funcentric dance/comedy/naughty/ nice extravaganza of movement and performance art. The Dance Sampler’s theme was Blues in the Night. Over three hours, twelve New York-based choreographers delivered works that ranged from a moving male solo backed by the powerful vocal of a spiritual, to a comic piece that began with a woman holding an iron and screaming, to a techno piece with several blue-bewigged and fantastically attired dancers.
Thalia Follies: A Political Cabaret tackles current events and taboo topics with malice toward none, hilarity toward all. It marked its 5th anniversary season with a whole new approach to the series, moving from a semi-improvisational, script-in-hand show to a polished, staged, and choreographed theatrical event. Performances ran Thursday through Saturday and were scheduled during three important political moments: just before the fall elections, a month after the new administration took office, and just as the city-wide campaigns began to heat up in the spring. Special guest stars Jane Curtin, James Naughton, and Tony Roberts added extra shimmer to the series.
Eduardo Patina For NDI
The 28th annual Bloomsday on Broadway again took listeners along on Leopold Bloom’s and Stephen Dedalus’ odyssey through the streets of Dublin, focusing this year on passages involving food. This was one of the shorter Bloomsdays, clocking in at a mere six hours.
Just Kidding! brought new work from perennial favorites such as the National Dance Institute and the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia; kept some new friends such as The Sippy Cups, Bubble & Friends, and Ralph’s World; and introduced a slew of fresh, offbeat, up-and-coming children’s performers from across the country. Films from around the world were shown during the New York International Children’s Film Festival. The season boasted two “green”-themed initiatives, including “Music for a Green Planet,” a program on how everyone can work together to save our earth, and The Harmonica Pocket, an eco-friendly band that recorded their latest record using solar electricity.
The Curriculum Arts Project (CAP) helps students gain a greater understanding of world history and culture through the lens of the visual and performing arts. The extensive program is recognized by the New York State Department of Education as being one of the most successful curriculum-based arts programs in the state. In spite of cuts to the program because of budget shortfalls, CAP continued to reach more than 6,000 students in the New York metropolitan area.
Financial Report The 2008/2009 fiscal year was one of the most challenging in Symphony Space’s history. Like everyone else, we saw our investments fall precipitously and all sources of income decrease. With careful cutbacks and use of unrestricted invested funds, we were able to maintain the level of programming and offer many free events. The graphs below summarize our income and expenses. A copy of our audited financial statement is available on request from the Development Office, ext 223.
Strong ticket sales throughout most of the season and rental income provided a degree of stability as contributions decreased.
Symphony Space produces approximately half of the 600 events that take place in the theatres annually. The remaining events are produced by outside groups that rent our theatres, 75% of which receive some discount or subsidy. A small group of carefully selected nonprofit groups receive the lowest subsidized rents and other services as part of our Performance Subsidy Program. This initiative is central to our mission to provide accessible, professional facilities to the full range of emerging and established performing arts groups in the city.
We have consistently kept the ratio of program to administrative and fundraising expenses above the minimum standard of 70%. Rentals, Literature, Film, Family, and Education programs had the largest program budgets.
Symphony Space is proud to recount the accomplishments of the 2008/2009 season. We extend our thanks to our Board of Directors, staff, and loyal members who made it all possible.
Fundraising 12% Administration 14%
We also offered 13 free events as part of The 1939 Project. The Jitterbug Dance Jam! invited the community to dance the night away to sounds of big band music on the stage of the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, hosted and with demonstrations by Mercedes Ellington, renowned dancer and choreographer. And twelve nights in the unWINEd lounge offered free performances from the American songbook from 1939. The 1939 Project broke all attendance projections and received generous funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and American Express.
Less familiar to our audiences is our adult literacy program All Write!, which is also offered completely free to participants. It helps students, many of whom are immigrants just learning English, gain fluency in the use of the English language. After attending a special Selected Shorts performance, students write stories drawn from their own experiences. The best of their work is then performed here in a Selected Shorts program like no other. All Write! served 700 students from literacy programs across the city.
The 2008/2009 Thalia Book Club included writers Amy Bloom, Tom Wolfe, Louise Erdrich, Geraldine Brooks, Azar Nafisi, Raymond Chandler, and David Wroblewski. The Thalia Kids’ Book Club introduced an event geared towards teenage readers, a pilot for expanding the program as our core pre-teen group ages. Authors whose works were discussed included Sherman Alexie, Cornelia Funke, Jonathan Stroud, Gary Schmidt, Kirsten Miller, and Jeanne Birdsall.
A special tribute to Jerome Robbins was presented by the d’Amboise family: Jacques, his son Christopher and daughter Charlotte, and sonin-law Terrence Mann and special guest Russ Tamblyn. Through reminisces and dance, the complex man that was Jerome Robbins came movingly to life.
One of the highlights of the 2008/2009 season was The 1939 Project in February 2009. During that month, our literature, music, and film programs coalesced around works that were created or premiered in 1939. Why 1939? The date resonates with the start of the war in Europe and perhaps with the World’s Fair in Queens, but it was also a year in which American artists spoke with a distinctly American voice. Film goers enjoyed Gone with the Wind and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Readers discovered Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Henry Cowell were waking up everyone’s ears, and Billie Holiday woke up peoples’ consciences with “Strange Fruit” about the lynching of two black men. Nineteen varied performances in this month-long festival explored these works and more.
moments from Broadway musicals past, present, and future. This Symphony Space signature event was still presented free, in spite of the stresses of the fiscal climate, and earned record donations from the crowd, a sign of how much the neighborhood appreciates this annual tradition. More than 2,500 people attended.
The 2008/2009 season was emblematic of Symphony Space’s unique place in the arts and in the community. Few organizations have the capacity to present a multidisciplinary festival like The 1939 Project; even fewer open their doors for free to share art and history-as-ithappens with its neighbors.
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box office 212.864.5400