Theater struggling as it nears 50th anniversary

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

With the 50th anniversary of Wayside Theatre just a year away, Artistic Director Warner Crocker is being very choosy with his productions. He knows an unpopular pick could be detrimental to ticket sales.

Like many businesses, the Middleton-based theater — the second oldest in the state — is suffering from the lagging economy. Wayside generates revenue through three sources:  earned income, which includes ticket sales; individual donors; and a combination of corporate donations, foundation grants and government funding.

“For our revenue we have a three-legged stool,” Crocker says. “All three of those legs got hit by the economy.”

Last year, Crocker cut his budget by $100,000, reducing it from $920,000 to $820,000. “We had to look at severe cutbacks,” he says.
Wayside still is carrying debt from a 2007 renovation. That coupled with dwindling donations and ticket sales put the theater in a hole at the start of its 2009 season. “We’ve been in that mode ever since,” Crocker says.

Like other art-related nonprofits, Wayside took a hit in March when the Virginia General Assembly cut $1.34 million over the next two fiscal years from the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Wayside has been relying on grants from the commission for several years. “We took a sizeable cut,” Crocker says, noting that the theater did receive a $25,900 grant from the commission, down from more than $40,000 last year.
Some people have stepped up to help the theater. Recently, one individual told Crocker that if the theater raised $20,000, he would make a matching donation. “We made it,” Crocker says. “Last year we had a $25,000 challenge and we made that work.”

In a perfect world, Crocker would like to see revenues of approximately $500,000, excluding ticket sales. “If we had that, we would be selling between $500,000 and $600,000 in tickets a year and that would put the budget at $1 million. We could be fully staffed.”

In reality, the theater has raised approximately $240,000. “We’ve reduced ourselves in size and scope,” Crocker says. “We need to find larger donors of $50,000 and above.”

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