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Wayside Theater in need of donations to stay afloat

Warner Crocker talks
Warner Crocker, director of the Wayside Theater, talks about the theater's condition and its future. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- Wayside Theater recently met a donor's challenge and raised $20,000 for a matching gift.

The theater needs a lot more of these challenges -- and donations in general -- to stay afloat, according to Artistic Director Warner Crocker.

"People have to or we're not going to survive longer," Crocker said.

An anonymous donor had challenged the theater to raise the money by the close of its last show, "Shenandoah," on July 3, Crocker said. In less than a month, the theater raised approximately $22,000 and thus matched the donation.

"That helped us a lot and we're very grateful for all the support that folks gave us, and that was everything from a couple of relatively large donations to help put us over the top, to everybody who just threw in a couple extra bucks in the collection boxes as they were leaving the theater at night," Crocker said. "Every dollar counts."

Some of the $42,000 from the challenge went to pay outstanding bills and the rest went toward the next production, according to Crocker.

"One of our ongoing challenges at Wayside Theater is making our case that what we charge for tickets, we're still the lowest ... professional theater ticket prices in the region," Crocker said.

In 2008 the theater had a debt from its renovation and expansion project. The economy went sour, affecting ticket sales and fundraising that prompted the theater to reduce its budget. The renovation continued but the expansion had to be put on hold.

"We've cut ourselves to the bone," Crocker said.

Costs to put on performances include royalties owed to writers, salaries for actors and crew, money spent on costumes and scenery as well as utilities bills. Personnel costs make up $500,000 of the theater's current budget of approximately $720,000, Crocker explained.

"Shenandoah" cost $59,000, not counting overhead, and brought in $53,000 in ticket sales, he said.

"That's where the fundraising part comes in," Crocker said.

The director said he must find the "right mix" of shows to attract audiences who buy tickets to keep the theater running. Some people have suggested the theater put on productions with smaller casts, Crocker said, as a way to cut costs. Smaller plays can cost closer to $40,000 but only a few can draw the crowds. The theater is "taking a gamble" with the smaller but lesser known "Striking 12" in late August, Crocker said.

"The trick there is word of mouth has to kick in and kick in early for it to be a success," Crocker said.

As Wayside approaches its 50th anniversary next year, the theater will seek input from the community about the venue, what people want from it and whether they feel it should continue. The theater has scheduled the first of at least three such meetings for July 27.

Those interested in attending may call the theater box office at 869-1776 for more information.



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