Fundraising effort at theater ongoing
Posted: January 30, 2013
The Winchester Star
Middletown — Wayside Theatre has raised more than a third of the $90,000 needed to stay open.
Artistic director Warner Crocker and the board of directors issued a plea three weeks ago to the public to assist in helping the 51-year-old professional theater in Middletown continue to offer performances, and $33,076 was the total Tuesday.
But looking at the bigger picture, Crocker is encouraging donors to give on a regular basis.
“Individuals are getting the larger message,” he said. “The first to do so are Thomas Madden and wife Teresa of Manassas, who are giving a certain amount each month.”
“It was a realization that prompted me to donate,” Thomas Madden said. “Last time (the theater had a campaign more than a year ago to raise funds), people circled the wagons and helped but went away thinking it was over.”
When he received a letter from the board with the information that the theater may have to close, it “took me back.”
He said he realized something more was needed, so he decided to make the monthly commitment.
“Wayside is a treasure,” he said, and he is very hopeful and confident that the campaign will move forward with steady growth.
He describes his donation as a selfish act. “I want to be able to continue seeing live theater and my friends at Wayside well into the future....”
Other donors have followed suit by giving $25 or more on a regular basis, Crocker said.
Changes this year
The board of the theater decided the first of this month to curtail future plans until the money was raised.
For the first time in its 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.
The decision whether to sell subscriptions will be made in the next few weeks, Crocker said.
Also, mounting the next production in April is on hold for now.
“We are in the constant evaluation mode,” he said.
“Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming,” possibly the last production of the company, opened Sunday to a packed house.
“It was a great opening,” Crocker said. The production continues through March 17, and ticket sales are crucial.
Other fundraisers have occurred. Suzuki violin students raised $209 at a recent event at Apple Blossom Mall.
In addition, Frederick County Middle School students are selling white plastic “Save Wayside” bracelets for any donation. So far more than $800 has been raised.
Troubles in the fall
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, but refers to the overall downturn of the economy, the election season, and worry about the fiscal cliff as possible factors. “Other theaters are having financial trouble.”
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 Dr. Byron Brill, president of the board, and Crocker said it has been difficult to make a dent in that.
He sees a big difference from the 2008 figures before 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 this continues, up to $82,000 could be lost by the end of the season, which was to conclude at the end of April, Crocker said. “This is a loss we cannot sustain.”
— Contact F.C. Lowe at email@example.com