A year after a financial crisis forced In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre to slash its staff and programs, the Minneapolis troupe said Tuesday that it has hired a new executive director and brought its budget back into the black.
Corrie Zoll, an experienced arts manager who last worked in development at Pillsbury House Theatre, will take over Sept. 5 at HOBT, best known for its oversized puppets and the annual May Day Parade that draws tens of thousands of spectators.
“It’s an honor and privilege to serve an organization that has been such a vital part of the community I’ve lived in for the last 20 years,” said Zoll, 45, who lives near the theater’s home on E. Lake Street. “I’m looking forward to working with the team to answer the question of how an arts organization responds to the 21st century realities of arts management.”
While Sandy Spieler, who founded the theater 41 years ago, remains as artistic director, Zoll has been brought in to provide steady administrative leadership.
Last August the mortgage on its theater building was underwater, and cash-flow problems forced a one-third cut in its budget, normally around $750,000.
HOBT hired veteran Twin Cities arts administrator Catherine Jordan as interim executive director, then embarked on a frantic round of fundraising. It got a $40,000 loan from the Nonprofit Assistance Fund, and another $40,000 through a line of credit. The company also raised $100,000 for a transformation fund, according to Jordan.
“Heart of the Beast has an enormous wellspring of support in the community,” she said. “You hate to have to find that out through crisis, but it’s good to be in a better place.”
The company will finish the fiscal year ending Aug. 31 in the black, with a projected budget of $800,000 in 2016. HOBT is current on its bills and has paid off the line of credit.
“What has been so amazing to me is the incredible resilience of the staff, community and everyone surrounding the theater,” said board president Kirstin Wiegmann. “Heart of the Beast has this incredible wealth of artistic vision and community investment. But for an organization to be healthy, there’s got to be a careful balance between the business, the vision, the finances, administration and artistry. We’ve had imbalances in the past but are trying to develop solid systems to help the artistry thrive.”
The incoming executive director earned a degree in theater at Grinnell College in Iowa and a master’s in arts management from Saint Mary’s University — in fact, Wiegmann was his professor. He has acted in, directed and written plays in the Twin Cities, including “Beaverdance: A Marxist Holiday Fur Trade Musical,” which played last holiday season at Bedlam Theater. In that show, his facial hair played a prominent role. In fact, Zoll has twice won the Minnesota Beard-Off.
“All of my facial hair has been theater-related,” he said. “I first grew a beard at 18 for a part, and the few times I’ve shaved, I’ve done it for acting.”
He thinks he may be done with facial hair now.
“I’m diving into puppets now,” he said, turning serious. “Heart of the Beast has been a vital part of our community for 41 years. I want to make sure, with the team, that we keep it that way for the next 41.”