Director: $90,000 in 90 days or bust at Wayside
Posted: January 8, 2013
The Winchester Star
MIDDLETOWN — The community came to the rescue of Wayside Theatre more than a year ago to keep it running.
This year, the theater is in a dire financial situation again and is taking more serious steps.
“The difference in this year and the last appeal is that we don’t want to do this again,” said Warner Crocker, artistic director. “We couldn’t pay our bills and the community responded in 2011.”
More than $106,000 was donated by 700 individuals, Crocker said, which kept the theater afloat and covered operating expenses.
But it didn’t happen again this year. Only $30,000 was raised in the annual campaign from individuals and corporations, and $120,000 is needed, Crocker said.
“We need to raise $90,000 in the next 90 days in order to go forward with the season,” said Dr. Byron Brill, president of the board. “We hope not to close, but it is a possibility. It is happening all over the country.”
For the first time in its 51-year history, the theater is not selling subscriptions for the next season, Crocker said.
The board decided in November to not offer the subscriptions at the Christmas show as in prior years. “We thought we better be prudent and not sell the subscriptions until we see how it goes,” Brill said.
Usually, 500 of the 800 subscribers will renew at that time, Crocker said.
If the theater closes, Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV thinks that would mean less revenue for the town.
“It’s a big tourist attraction. It brings people to Middletown,” he added. “We have got to do what we can to help them.”
Presently, the only planned performance is “Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming,” from Jan. 26 to March 17.
Depending on the results in the next 90 days, that may be the final production, Brill added.
Change of the season
The theater had one of its best summers ever, Crocker said, but things changed in the fall.
“The fall and Christmas productions are usually the best part of the season, but not this year,” he said. “Usually the Christmas show would bail us out.”
He missed projections by $20,000 on what the play would bring in. “I miscalculated the demand,” he said.
The production, “Glory Bea! A Shenandoah Christmas Story,” an original play, was presented for the first time last year. “It was a huge success and we had to turn people away,” Crocker said. “But the people didn’t come back this year. One show can drastically change the season.”
He is puzzled why the show didn’t do well and isn’t sure the reasons for the slump, but refers to the overall malaise of the economy, the election season, and the looming fiscal cliff as possible factors. “Other theaters are having financial trouble.”
In addition, the theater cannot book bus tours since the nearby Wayside Inn is no longer operating a restaurant. “Tours want a convenient one-stop shop.”
Cuts have been made in the past, and Crocker doesn’t see how much more can be trimmed without affecting the quality of the performances. “We cut the budget from $900,000 in 2006 to $700,000 this year. Our staff went from 19 to 12.”
In addition to operating expenses, the theater owes about $1 million to BB&T and Brill, but Crocker said it has been difficult to make a dent in the total.
Looking to the future, the board has determined that $250,000 is needed from donations and grants to provide quality work.
Ticket sales only cover the cost of the first half of the production, Crocker said.
Shows typically cost $40,000 to $45,000 to mount. “Wait until Dark,” presented in the fall, lost $17,000, while “Glory Bea” had a deficit of $20,000.
That is the scary part of the business — whether money taken in will cover the costs, Crocker added.
He sees a big difference from the 2008 figures prior to the recession — corporate funding is 55 percent lower, and state and national grants are down 60 percent.
Attendance also fell from 30,000 customers to 20,000 for the past two seasons.
If things continue this way, a projected loss of $82,000 could be realized at the end of the season, which was to conclude at the end of April, Crocker said. “This is a loss we cannot sustain.”
The board has worked hard to figure out what to do, Crocker said, and will meet this week and discuss plans. “They have to go out and talk to people about Wayside.”
Conor Gallagher of The Winchester Star contributed to this report.
— Contact F.C. Lowe at email@example.com