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Because the show must go on …

June 9, 2014

Playhouse 395 is kicking off its 2014 membership drive to help raise money needed to keep community theater alive in Inyo. Above, Playhouse Board President and Assistant Director of “Oklahoma!” Karen Keehn, Vocal Director Diana Lanane and Director Martha Reynolds prepare for opening night of Playhouse’s production of “Oklahoma!” this past March. Photo courtesy Kellie Hallenbeck

Not even the arts are immune from America’s economic downturn, which has hit many local businesses and individuals.
Last week, Playhouse wrapped up a successful 50/50 raffle at Bishop Mule Days, and is kicking off its annual membership drive this week to ensure that the show can indeed go on.
According to Playhouse Treasurer Stan Conger, the all-volunteer community theater group struggled through the recession only to find that after three good, but financially disappointing events in a row, the group is extremely low on operating capital.
“That’s bad news in the live theater business, where the show can only go on when the capital exists to finance it,” Conger said. “It’s a case of feast and famine whether it’s film or live theater. The run up to any production is always primarily a matter of production expenses before the show, followed by a gulp in the throat and a prayer that the seats will fill to turn that expense into a good bet.”
With a tough budget heading into its summer and fall season, Playhouse is launching a membership drive and fundraising effort to ensure it can pay licensing costs for future productions, which can run between $3,000 and $9,000 per play.
Residents and visitors stepped up to the plate during the Mule Days 50/50 raffle, which netted Playhouse a total of $1,200. Playhouse Board President Karen Keehn said Monday that the raffle had good returns, and the membership drive kicking off this week might bring in the additional the theater group $10,000 needs to finance its next act.
Residents who want to join Playhouse as a member have several different options for their level of membership and the perks that come with being initiated:
• A “Cameo Member” must donate up to $49. The donation is 100 percent tax deductible and the member will be recognized on Playhouse 395’s website for the year.
• A “Cast Member” membership runs between $50 and $99 and includes recognition on the Playhouse Playbill for the season as well as the previously mentioned perks.
• A “Lead Role Member” must donate between $100 and $499 and will receive early access to the box office and previously mentioned perks.
• A “Director Member” must donate between $500 and $999 and receive all previous benefits as well as an Early Bird Discount for up to 10 tickets.
• An “Impresario Member” must donate ate least $1,000 and will receive all previous benefits, plus a backstage and green room tour for one or for a group.
Membership registration is available at www.playhouse395.com.
Conger said that lower than expected ticket sales on recent productions and low returns on a fall fundraiser are just one part of the puzzle that led to the group’s financial predicament.
“The board of directors is accepting their share of responsibility. They admit to having not done much to promote memberships and donations and the word about the fall production just didn’t get out,” Conger said. “But the fundraiser may have lost money due to an unforeseeable conflict with another event on the same night.”
The low ticket sales for the spring production may have been the result of a change made by their contract ticket agency in the way that available seats were displayed. The change left some thinking that the show was sold out or nearly sold out.
That same erroneous conclusion was, at first glance, reached by Conger. He said he knew that the show could not have been sold out so quickly, absent some incredible chain of events. So, he played with the site a bit and discovered that their ticketing agent had grayed out all of the seats other than the category that the potential buyer was viewing, leaving the buyer with the “unfortunate” conclusion that none of the other seats were available.
A frantic call to the ticketing agent was next on a very short list for the treasurer, with predictable results. “The agent was very pleasant, but stated that the display could not be changed for this event and that she would forward his suggestions to their IT personnel who would review, but not necessarily respond to the suggestions,” Conger said. “She explained that they had many customers to consider and that changes in the system would only be made for the benefit of all.”
Large, well-financed organizations might have been able to weather such a perfect storm of events, but, Conger said, Playhouse 395 is not such an organization.
After burning through reserves during the recession, organizers now need to turn a profit to continue community theater offerings.
“The Playhouse board is working to right the ship,” Conger said. “They are beginning with the membership and donations campaign that they admittedly have neglected. Beyond that they are renewing their efforts to economize and to find sources of funding. They are committed to pulling off the Children’s Theater Workshops this summer and they very much want to make the fall youth production of ‘Grease’ become a reality.”
Conger said that the dedication of Playhouse’s organizers is apparent, as at least one board member is willing to go out on a limb and personally be on the hook to buy the rights to the fall production simply to ensure that the show goes on.
The license to produce “Grease,” at $3,500, is actually cheap in comparison to average licensing costs for musicals, which can run $9,000 and far more for current productions, Conger said.
“I think it’s important that people know that we changed our ticketing structure (lowered prices) to make it easier for them to continue coming to our productions during the toughest years of this recession,” Keehn said. “I also think it’s important that they realize that to put on a high quality show, it costs us between $20,000 (for a junior show) to over $30,000 (for our big spring shows).”
To volunteer, donate, buy tickets or become a member of Playhouse 395, visit www.playhouse395.com.

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