Money troubles at the Ritz


Things have been going well recently for the Ballet of the Dolls and the Ritz Theater: the crowds have been good and the theater has been booked all year and continues to be popular, according to managing director Michael Romens. 

The trouble is, the Ritz still has a sizable debt. When it opened in 2006—after substantial renovations to the 1920s movie theater building—the initial fundraising effort fell more than $750,000 short of its goal.

“We are hoping to go back to the Northeast community to help us,” Romens said. “We need to quickly raise $350,000, which would retire our short term debt. That’s where we’re paying the interest and principal now; it comes out of operating expenses.”

The theater’s debt is $358,140 short term, and $367,531 long term, for a total of $725,671. The Ritz’s revenue sources include individuals, foundations, corporations, and public funds.

In a later e-mail, Romens said that as long as that short-term debt is outstanding, the theater has to pay $5,756 a month, which is more than a fourth of what the theater takes in. Short-term and/or long-term debt holders include Northeast Bank, the Minnesota Nonprofit Assistance Fund, the City of Minneapolis and Sheridan Neighborhood Organization.

He said the theater is “current with all loans and fiscally responsible,” but that other vendors and programming partners wait too long for payment because of lagging cash flow, “which hurts the reputation of the Ritz Theater compared to other better-endowed venues.”

“When the theater opened, people weren’t aware that there was still work to do. We’re doing very well with box office revenue, concessions and theater rental. It’s all on target. Everything’s working. But we still owe this money.”

He said he is hopeful that the theater can raise the necessary funds; its capital campaign is ongoing.

According to Ritz information, more than 52,000 people have attended a performance since the theater opened, and 41 different arts organizations have performed there. Attendance increased 24 percent from 2008 to 2009, and in the 2009-2010 season, 85 percent of the weekends were booked. The theater’s entertainment breakdown includes 41 percent dance, 18 percent theater, 15 percent music, 5 percent community, 3 percent film, 3 percent multi-purpose and 15 percent other.

It rents more than 2,000 hours per year of rehearsal space in the studio. “Many different people rent out the studio, including Ethnic Dance Theater, Katha Dance and Lili’s Burlesque.”

In addition to Ballet of the Dolls, which also provides programming and management for the theater, groups booked at the Ritz for the 2010-2011 season include Jawaahir, Middle Eastern Dance; Choreographer Showcase; Zorongo Flamenco; Man Munchkin Productions; St. Paul City Ballet; Theater Mu’s Little Shop of Horrors; Minnesota Opera Student Show; Zenon Dance Company; Katha Dance Company; Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus; Heliotrope Music Festival, Nordeast Music Festival; Cantus Men’s Vocal Ensemble; N’Motion Dance Company; Eclectic Edge Ensemble Dance Company; and the Minnesota Fringe Festival.

Upcoming Ballet of the Dolls shows include Whatever Happened to….Swan Lake?, which Romens describes as “Tchaikovsky mashed up with [the Joan Crawford/Bette Davis horror movie] Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” It runs Oct. 15-30. Other Dolls offerings are the holiday show Cinderfella, described as a “twist on the classic fairy tale about a young man, his evil stepmother and her daughter,” Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks in February, and Fashion Ball 2011, A Fashion Model’s Adventure in April.

Myron Johnson is the Ballet of the Dolls’ artistic director. He creates and directs Ballet of the Dolls shows and runs the operating company. “Myron’s shows are just amazing,” Romens said. “He has such imagination and humor.” The Dolls’ mission, which Johnson wrote, is “to fearlessly create challenging and surprising dance work that brings a sense of discovery to audiences and artists alike.” Romens said that the Dolls offer classes to professional dancers at the Ritz Theater.

He said that since the Ritz Theater reopened on 13th Avenue, the area has seen a renaissance, with a mix of restaurants, art galleries and other businesses. “Every shop and establishment is an independent business that you can’t find anywhere else. You can get dinner and go to a show for less than it costs for a drink and appetizer downtown, and the parking is free. When the new streetlights are finished in October, it will be even more safe and accommodating to patrons.” The 38 new streetlights, he added, are being installed on 13th Avenue between Washington and Main streets, and on Second Street between 12th and 14th avenues.

The Ritz’s website is For information about the theater or the capital campaign, call 612-436-1129.