The entire staff at Baltimore Center Stage will take a pay cut and 8% of the theater company’s positions will be eliminated, its managing director and artistic director told The Baltimore Banner.
For 87% of staffers, the pay cuts are up to 3% of their salary. The other 13% of staff, which account for upper administrative positions, had deeper cuts.
Current programming or the coming season will not be affected, they added.
“Anytime you are making decisions of this nature, it’s obviously very hard. It’s not something that I take lightly,” said artistic director Stevie Walker-Webb, who has been with the company since October 2023. “I understand the impact of it. It was very difficult.”
There are 51 full-time employees at Baltimore Center Stage, the area’s leading regional theater, which last year celebrated 60 years in operation. Staff was informed of the changes Jan. 11 and given a 30-day notice of the pay reductions, which will go into effect the week of Feb. 11. Some positions were eliminated with severance, and given a last day of Jan. 26. Other employees had the choice to stay through June 30 or take severance and also have their last day on Jan. 26.
“With these changes, Baltimore Center Stage is fully confident that no [further] changes or disruptions will occur,” said Managing Director Adam Frank.
Frank, who has held his title since December 2022, would not go into specifics of the jobs that were cut.
“Out of respect for the privacy of those affected, we can’t comment on individual positions eliminated,” Frank said. “We can say that the areas impacted are parts of our operations and artistic teams. The work of those teams, especially our artistic team’s work with local partners, artists and young people, remains at the forefront of our mission. Though this is one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make, the rightsizing of our organization will expand our ability to deliver on that mission and better serve this community.”
Frank called the 8% reduction in their workforce “modest” compared to other regional theaters around the country that are similarly scaling down their staff.
“On a national level, all theaters had to face the hard reality of this post-COVID moment and have had to make similar decisions, and in some cases have had to lay off larger percentages of their staff,” Walker-Webb reiterated. “What’s happening at Baltimore Center Stage is something that is plaguing our entire field.”
By having all of Center Stage’s employees take a pay cut, the institution’s expenses have been reduced by 5%, which is a major step for the sustainability of the organization, according to Frank.
“We knew that an organizational rightsizing was critical to ensure that BCS could continue to be sustainable for the future, especially given the end of the federal government’s financial aid, and the nationwide changes in audience attendance behavior,” Frank said.
Frank, who came to Center Stage from Waterwell, a nonprofit theater and education program based in New York, and Walker-Webb, the Tony-nominated director for the Broadway comedy “Ain’t No Mo’,” now split the duties of leading the company that was once held by Stephanie Ybarra, who left in April 2023. Ybarra, who led the theater for five years, joined the Mellon Foundation as its program officer in arts and culture.
Walker-Webb stressed that the recent cuts were not a result of any missteps of the theater’s past leaders.
“I knew there would be financial difficulties — not because there was any mismanagement by predecessors, board or staff, but simply that our industry is still reeling from COVID halting everything,” Walker-Webb said.
In fact, Walker-Webb was extremely complimentary of the work of Ybarra, as well as Kwame Kwei-Armah, who left Center Stage in 2018 after a seven-year run as artistic director.
“Kwame is someone I have looked up to as a friend, colleague, brother. Stephanie is a friend and colleague. Kwame built this pipeline out of Baltimore and onto the national stage,” Walker-Webb said. “Stephanie was focused around this idea of deepening community partnership and civic engagement. I get to come in and bring those two visions together under one unified mission. My hope for the future is that we drive further on those missions and blow the roof off the American theater.”
That means delivering a stellar 2024/25 season, which will be announced in April, Walker-Webb said.
“I can’t drop any names. But I can tell you that there are two world premieres of highly celebrated playwrights, Grammy Award-winning artists, and artists in considerations for Pulitzers,” he promised. “There will be some real heavyhitters on the mainstage of Baltimore Center Stage. … I’m using all of my resources — social capital and people I’m connected to — in service of Baltimore right now.”
This article has been updated to correct the percentage of Baltimore Center Stage staff members who took a pay cut.