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Plan for stability depends on sacrifices With the help of consultants, Studio Arena wrote a three-phase strategic plan to take the theater out of debt and stabilize its future. The phases:

1. Immediately: Financial belt-tightening.

This includes the 14 employees laid off in January, the upcoming scaled-back season and restructuring of the theater's management. "We are nickel-and-diming things," Gaffney said.

2. Next five years: Digging out of debt.

Studio Arena owes $675,000 to a consortium of banks, along with more than $1 million borrowed from its own endowment, which now stands at about $600,000. Studio Arena board member Mike Piemonte estimated that the bank debt will be paid off within two or three years, but only if the theater comes up with with surpluses of at least $200,000 per year. The endowment debt will likely take more than five years to eliminate. This phase will involve selling off a portion of the theater's costume inventory and encouraging more outside companies to rent its stage.

3. Future: Educational component

Though the details are under wraps, Gaffney plans to institute a master's degree in fine arts program in collaboration with a local university. This, Gaffney said, would turn the theater into a conservatory and breeding ground for young actors and playwrights.

-- Colin Dabkowski

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