Editorial: Puppet Theatre controversy begs solution

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

Ministry of Culture audit yesterday pointed to numerous shortcomings in Puppet Theatre management. Judging by their description, solutions should not be overly hard to achieve – changing management style or abiding by precepts. What is alarming, however, is the way Puppet Theatre (PT) leaders deny problems and view the entire audit as crusade against PT director Meelis Pai. Seeing independent auditors as ministry’s puppets points to a conflict smouldering between ministry and theatre, which – if unresolved – will hinder any fruitful advancement.

It all begun with a hole in the budget. PT, just as all other theatres, last year changed its way of being: state theatre became a foundation. As one way of being comes to an end, and another begins, some kind of a review comes in handy – be it just for the purpose of finding out from which position the altered organisation launches. The review, however, proved shocking: the theatre proved to be deep in the red. True: in the theatre’s opinion that is far from extraordinary – this, they say, is the way theatres are managed. When money allotted for one period runs out, they take on debt until new money arrives, always a year at a time. The more so that ticket revenue only reaches the theatre – in part, at least – when the visitors sit in their chairs. However, the scenery-costumes-puppets have to be purchased long before the show gets going.

The ministry took a slightly different approach to the matter and ordered a more thorough audit. Revealing, that debt-taking was in no way the only problem plaguing PT. The hall used had no contract. Indeed, things are unclear with many a contract; in the case of four productions copyright issues were murky, one way or another.

The most serious problem, however, was security of visitors. As revealed by audit, Rescue Board in 2012 found the main hall to be unfit for plays – the gas heating systems declared hazardous for health – and its use was prohibited. Notwithstanding, shows went on, kids sat in the chairs and puppeteers performed onstage. While excessive debt and messes with contracts and authors’ remuneration might be explained with overly creative management, continuing with shows after Rescue Board ban was wilful infringement, unacceptable for a theatre manager.

For shrinking the budget hole, ministry set a deadline for end of June. Will PT manage? That largely depends on income from the mega-production Shrek. Should the show sell well, they just might make it.

Foundation’s board meeting to discuss problems raised by audit is planned for beginning of April, but it might come sooner. The tasks faced by the board are not limited to budget woes. What they also need to do is solve the controversy with Ministry of Culture.