Theater Ransom Notes

It was recently announced that the Iowa City Community Theatre is in debt and needs $20,000 by the end of May.

ICCT has known for a while that they were in debt; this is not news to them, they almost canceled their production of Wonderful Town because of their debt.

I don’t remember when their production of Wonderful Town was, it might have been while I was still living in Chicago. Their production of Wonderful Town went on because of some last minute fundraising. An email that was sent out by board member Kehry Lane says this:

This past year has been a struggle. We nearly canceled Wonderful Town (due to lack of funding), which was saved by the extraordinary fund raising efforts of it’s production team. Due to their hard work, ICCT was able to proceed with the show, and make some money in the process.

Unfortunately, the money made on WT wasn’t enough to bring us out of the hole. We still find ourselves in need of a substantial amount of money, or we should seriously consider closing our doors. The target is $20,000.00 by the end of May. We’re hoping for 200 theatre lovers to contribute $100.00 each. If we meet this goal, we’ll be able to retire our debt, and start next season with some cash on hand.

So, they only did fundraising to put on Wonderful Town? They didn’t raise money to pull them completely out of debt?

The email continues:

We’ve assembled a line-up of shows (and directors) for next year that we believe will enchant and delight audiences. We’re planning on pursuing grants to help us sustain ICCT over the long term. We’ve got a strong slate of candidates for next year’s board. We’re moving in the right direction, and we need some brave, generous folks to contribute.

So they’ve already planned their new season and have a line-up of both plays and directors. I would like to know why they’ve planned a season if they’re so deep in debt that they can’t go on if they don’t have $20,000 by the end of May.

I then read Kris Joseph’s post on this same issue. This is brought about by a production of Blood Brothers at Gladstone Theatre that might close two weeks early due to slow ticket sales. (Which, I do have issues with.)

From what Kris has written, it’s being made out to be that if Blood Brothers closes early, it will be because YOU didn’t buy tickets. Which is blaming the public and a future audience and only pushing them further away.

DO NOT DO THIS.

This is what ICCT’s plea sounds like: We didn’t pull out of debt because not enough people saw Wonderful Town. (I didn’t even know it happened; I must have still been living in Chicago at the time.)

That is, of course, not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that ICCT has known that they are in debt for quite some time and this is the first time that they’ve really done something major about this. Someone, a managing director or a board member, should have seen this coming and said something.

I do realize that this occurs with some theaters; some theaters are genuinely caught off-guard by lost revenue from a show or a project, especially with bad weather. But if a theater does this, they have to prove to me that they will stay out of debt. If you get press and you get attention and people donate, does that mean they will come and see the plays? Not necessarily. What will you do to keep this from happening again?

Theater is a business; money has to be earned in different ways to keep the theater afloat. I can personally say that fundraising is something that genuinely terrifies me when it comes to running a theater, but I realize that by courting businesses to sponsor plays or to do joint projects, it can keep my theater open.

There is a certain urgency to saying, “We need $x by this date.” It is, as Travis and Kris put it, a ransom note. But when you provide the facts, people that don’t have bleeding hearts might seem a bit skeptical.

Ultimately, it’s not over until the artistic director chains himself to the stage door.

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