Wednesday, January 13, 2010

SOS for theaters

[ photo: Eliza Bent, in, from David Cole's Q&A with her in July 2009 ]

Eliza Bent's article in the January American Theatre makes several points:
1. Emergency fundraising campaigns can come off like "ransom demands."
2. The Great Recession isn't the only problem: "Miscalculated ticket sales, declining subscriber bases, shortfalls in contributed income, not-so-successful capital campaigns and accumulated debt ..." are among the potential pitfalls.
3. Be honest with your subscribers, your board, and all your stakeholders. Don't claim that it's an emergency if it isn't.
4. Get everyone in the theater to write and call thank-you's to contributors.
5. Don't cancel shows or reduce their quality; people don't write checks to theaters that aren't behaving like theaters.
6. Small donors (in the $100-$150 range) are key.
7. Get a board members to contact three local banks and get a consortium loan from all three of them (especially if they've turned you down individually).
8. Keep reminding everyone of specific ways in which your theater contributes to the community. Make your space available for non-theatrical functions.
9. Spread the word via Facebook. But don't treat Facebook as a panacea. And supervise the verbiage appealing on your behalf on Facebook; some may find it off-putting.
10. Write those grant applications. Seek cooperations and even mergers with academic theater departments.

With Interplayers changing plays and dates and suddenly holding fundraisers — and with Lake City Playhouse apparently doing better but still in debt and about to change artistic directors — such advice may come in useful.
Even the most stable of theaters in the most prosperous of times are creating art in the face of time limits and financial constraints.
When has there ever been a perfect time for theater? Like Sonya and Uncle Vanya at the end of Chekhov's play, we must work. And then we shall rest.

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