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Curtain to come down on NYSTI Dec. 31

Curtain to come down on NYSTI Dec. 31

Barring a last-minute reprieve, the New York State Theatre Institute will face its final curtain cal

Barring a last minute reprieve, the New York State Theatre Institute will face its final curtain call Dec. 31 following 36 years of providing professional and educational regional theater.

“The miracle has not presented itself yet,” said David Bunce, the institute’s acting executive director.

NYSTI’s final production, “A Christmas Carol,” ends Sunday, and it has no plans to produce additional shows next year. A last-ditch effort to raise $200,000 fell short by $165,000, and the institute’s 15 employees received layoff notices from the governor’s office two weeks ago.

NYSTI’s board has scheduled a meeting for today, but the agenda was not available Tuesday. Bunce said he does not know what board members plan to discuss.

“What I would hope they will tell us is they have found a way to keep us going,” he said.

Realistically, though, Bunce said, the board has “an amount of cleanup to be done” to close down NYSTI. “I have a thousand questions for them about the logistics of suspending operations,” he said.

NYSTI, based in Troy, owns a building at 37 First St. that it uses as its headquarters and a second building at 136 Second St., which is a warehouse used to build sets and props. Bunce said the buildings are worth $540,000. The institute also has approximately $100,000 in inventory.

Phone calls to Gov. David Paterson’s office were not returned. Paterson took control of the institute’s board earlier this year by installing members of his staff to it after sitting members resigned.

Paterson cut funding for NYSTI from the 2010-11 budget, leaving it with enough operating funds to last through the end of the year. He said it should merge with The Egg as a way for the state to save money in a tight fiscal year.

Paterson moved against NYSTI after state Inspector General Joseph Fisch issued a report highly critical of the agency in April. Fisch’s report said the institute’s former board exercised lax control over the hiring and spending practices of longtime Producing Artistic Director Patricia Snyder. Fisch said Snyder misspent and misappropriated more than $1 million and violated nepotism laws. She retired from NYSTI May 7.

The inspector general forwarded his report to the state attorney general office’s for review. The attorney general’s office did not respond to an e-mail and phone call for comment on whether it planned to investigate Snyder.

Institute officials are hoping incoming Gov. Andrew Cuomo will restore funding to NYSTI in the next state budget; he has not indicated he will do so.

Bunce said he is working on a three-year strategic plan to keep NYSTI operating beyond Dec. 31. His plan calls for the institute to become partially self-sufficient by 2014.

“We exist by statute. They can suspend operations, but they need to change the law to remove us. We have between January and March to get into the next budget,” he said.

The state provided $1.5 million to NYSTI in the current fiscal year, half its usual operating revenue. The institute raises a further $500,000 through box office receipts, merchandising and other revenue sources.

The state Legislature established the institute in 1974 to provide theater and education for New York youth.

Bunce’s plan calls for NYSTI to ramp up revenues to $800,000 by 2014 and eventually to reach $1.25 million, with the state providing $1.25 million in support.

Failing in this effort, NYSTI’s staff will likely face the unemployment line. The staff do not have bumping rights within other agencies within the state. The institute is a public benefit corporation.

The 15 staff members have 285 combined years of service, an average of 20 years each. The institute reduced staff by 13 people in the summer when it lost half its funding.

Bunce said NYSTI staff really don’t know what will happen come Dec. 31.

“We have put all of our efforts into our mission, which is producing shows and educating the kids. There has been no looking beyond Jan. 1 because our focus has been right here,” he said.

After Dec. 31, he and others will become volunteers at the institute.

“There are a certain amount of us who will keep fighting,” he said.

Dan Feldstein, spokesman for United University Professions, the union representing NYSTI employees, said he does not know what the institute’s board will discuss today. He said UUP has tried to help the institute raise money by contributing $8,000 to the cause and it also appealed to lawmakers and the governor’s office to provide funds to NYSTI.

“I don’t know if this is the end or not,” he said.

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