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Posted March 18, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

At Wayside Theatre, show will go on

By Josette Keelor

Wayside Theatre in Middletown has announced it will not close its doors.

At a press conference Monday morning, Wayside artistic director Warner Crocker and Board of Directors president Byron Brill assured a small audience that it not only has raised enough money to finish out its 51st season, it also will pursue a 52nd season.

In order to help prevent against financial problems as in recent years, the theater has instituted changes in the coming season. Ticket prices will remain the same, but subscriptions for season tickets will have more variety and programs like "Read a Book See it Live" will aim to foster more interest around the community.

Wayside also has begun expanding its corporate sponsorships, something Crocker said makes Wayside unique.

"Civic-minded business leaders who want to support not-for-profits in their community have a unique opportunity with us at Wayside Theatre," he said. "When they have become a corporate sponsor they receive 180 tickets to do what as they will."

In January the theater announced that if it could not raise $90,000 by the end of March, it might have to close its doors. That, in addition to needing $250,000 in donations alone every season, made the theater reconsider its place in the community.

But now, Brill said, the theater has raised close to $86,000.

Furthermore, the theater has been able to lower its previous projection of $250,000 to $197,000 for the coming year, and because of recent reasonable assurances of $113,000 in grants, donations and sponsorships for the 2013-14 season, it has to raise only $84,000 for the coming season to meet its goal.

Wayside's "$20 is Plenty" campaign aims to help achieve that goal by encouraging donations from supporters who might previously have thought they can't afford to sponsor the theater.

Wayside's last play of the season, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," will begin April 5, and the next season will include six plays and a Christmas show.

The musical comedy "Church Basement Ladies" will open the season, running from June 1 to 30. Next, the bedroom farce "Boeing Boeing" will run July 13 to Aug. 11. Date night musical comedy "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" runs from Aug. 24 to Sept. 22, followed by a new adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," Oct. 5 to Nov. 3. Following "A Christmas Carol" Nov. 30 to Dec. 24 will be the musical "Southern Crossroads" Jan. 25 to March 16, 2014, and Mark Twain's farce "Is He Dead?" from March 29 to April 27.

Based on a lengthy review of its finances over the past several weeks, it was determined that Wayside can continue to stay open indefinitely with vigilance and community support.

Crocker said that what they are "talking about here is a cultural change at Wayside Theatre" internally and externally. "It's up to us to do the internal work and also make this [needed] change apparent to our community."

One of those changes is welcoming grant writer Connie Stadler as a board member to help the theater gain awareness of financial opportunities, Crocker said.

But it's also about proving to the community that live theater is important, Crocker said.

Moved by audience response to a performance between two actors in Wayside's production of "A Christmas Carol" in 2000, Crocker recounted Monday watching "180 people hold their breaths simultaneously in this room when those two actors played that moment so truthfully right here that everyone felt those actors' hearts beating ..."

Everyone knows the story of "A Christmas Carol," he said, which makes the response he remembers all the more moving.

"That is what live, professional theater is all about," he said.

In the end, keeping the theater open will depend on community interest, said Brill.

"The best way," he said, "is to do what we're doing, but just to do a better job."

For more information about Wayside Theatre, call 540-869-1776 or visit www.waysidetheatre.org.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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