Part 3 in Capital Public Radio's 3-part series "The Show
Must Go On"
You might think the touristy Delta King Riverboat, Capital Stage's
theatre home, would be an odd place for bold, cutting edge plays.
In fact, the intimacy of the 115-seat venue only adds to the
intensity. Here's a sample from last year's opening production
called "First Person Shooter."
(excerpt from "First Person Shooter")
More contemporary than commercial, Capital Stage was
nevertheless coming into its own financially at the start of last
Things were going great.
Co-founder and artistic director Stephanie Gularte.
We were experiencing continued significant growth, our
reputation and getting our brand out there, all of that we were
feeling very positive. And then almost overnight it seemed
that things just halted. In early October we opened "First
Person Shooter" and the phones stopped ringing. I mean almost
literally. We went into crisis mode frankly.
The drop in ticket sales was sudden, steep, and for a company
the size of Capital Stage, serious. Gularte says she
immediately called an emergency meeting with her board of
It felt like there was a twenty minute period of just
utter silence. It probably wasn't that long, where we just
sat. And the question out there was what are we going to
Ya, it felt longer than twenty minutes but that was
probably about right (laughs).
Board president Arlen Orchard.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise to any of us, but I
think we were still hoping things were gonna turn around more
quickly than they had. And of course we have an accountant on
the board and so from a cash flow standpoint he was saying we're in
big trouble right now.
Ultimately a couple of board members wrote some checks to
help us get through the immediate.
But the season had barely started. There were still five
full-length productions yet to go over the next seven months.
Bottom line was we had to get through the season somehow,
we had a commitment to our subscribers to do so. And we
weren't sure if that was going to be possible or not. But we
started making changes pretty quickly.
The biggest change came to the season itself. Gularte
took two of the plays that would have required large casts and
production crews and substituted them with two smaller cast
plays. Gularte, along with co-founders Peter Mohrmann and her
husband Jonathan Williams, also took on more work themselves,
including acting roles and directing duties. They were able to
respond swiftly to the crisis, says Gularte, because of the
company's small size and versatility. But board president Orchard
says he worried about the founders doing too much.
I think there was a look of concern on the board and we
had some pretty frank discussions about staff burnout. Of
course without Stephanie, Peter and Jonathan there really isn't a
You know it's a pretty intense environment
anyway. And then you add into that some real fear. I mean
things can go a couple of different ways. It can really tear
your organization or your family apart or it can pull you together
closer and I think everyone kind of had the attitude… what can I
People outside the organization were also asking what they
could do. Orchard says Capital Stage would have sent out letters
appealing for donations, but of course, there was no budget.
So we turned to the internet and did what we call our 25
hundred at 25 campaign. We've got about 2500 e-mails in our
database and so we started asking each of those people to donate 25
That grassroots campaign raised more than thirty thousand
dollars. As for corporate support, Gularte says previous sponsors
have remained, but it's been difficult striking up new partnerships
in the current economy. One area that is growing and that must
continue to grow, says Gularte, is Capital Stage's subscription
base… and not just for financial reasons.
Subscribing to an arts organization, and whether its
Capital Stage or someone else, it really is so critical to the arts
having flexibility to take a little risk with the work that is
done. To not have to rely on doing something commercial every
single time so that we're so heavily reliant on that single ticket
Gularte says that artistic freedom allows Capital Stage to
showcase emerging playwrights and new works… like last season's
closing production "Erratica"
(excerpt from "Erratica")
Diane Shirts was in the audience for closing
weekend. She's been a Capital Stage subscriber
almost from the beginning.
I usually buy two subscriptions so that I can bring a
friend with me down and we have quite a discourse after the plays,
discussing you know what was the point of that play, what was the
underlying theme, that sort of thing.
Joe Zanicker was also in the audience. He heard the pitch from
the stage for season subscriptions, and he says it really sunk
We've always enjoyed everything that's here. But at
the end of the day if we don't start buying season subscriptions,
organizations like this aren't gonna make it. So tonight we
became season ticket holders.
That gives hope to Stephanie Gularte, not just for Capital
Stage, but for all of the arts.
We're actually having that dialogue now, well what does it
matter if an arts organization shuts down. There's a lot of
reason to think that the arts are gonna come out not just having
survived, but actually come out stronger throughout this. And
we hope and plan to have a role in that.