*** Published September 09, 2010 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Theatre Bristol, which has provided live community performances downtown since 1965, is struggling financially and might close shortly without a quick infusion of area backing, theater officials said Wednesday.
"You can only go so long without support, and the bills become due," said Gwendolyn Arnold, president of Theatre Bristol's Board of Directors. "If something doesn't happen or change by the end of this month, I don't see Theatre Bristol remaining in operation. We're running out of time."
Added Emily Anne Thompson, Theatre Bristol's executive director: "We literally could be getting ready to do our last shows. We're hoping and fighting to prevent that, but it is very grim at the moment."
Barring new support, Thompson said, Theatre Bristol will likely close after its current show – "The Princess and the Pea" – ends its run on Sept. 24.
The State Street theater, which showcases local actors, singers, musicians and others from ages 6 to 70-plus – performing in shows and musicals such as "Oklahoma," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Rent," "Annie," "Godspell," "Cabaret," "Grease," "Chicago" and "The Wizard of Oz" is currently $30,000 in debt, Arnold and Thompson said.
The nonprofit theater has an annual operating budget of under $200,000 – and has been hard hit in 2010 by a lack of local corporate sponsors, huge cuts in state funding, no dollars from either Bristol city government and an abrupt loss of revenue support from area school districts, which can no longer afford to hold student field-trips to see performances in Theatre Bristol's 100-seat hall.
"For a corporation, a $30,000 debt might not be much," Thompson said.
"But for a nonprofit like us, it's pretty devastating, especially when you consider the royalties we're required to pay up front to do our shows."
Asher Henson, marketing director at Theatre Bristol, said the theater had been aggressively seeking additional community support – through mailings, phone calls and other efforts – since January, but had almost no luck in attracting new dollars.
Henson said Theatre Bristol wants to pursue a new business plan to generate more money on its own – such as hosting acting classes, renting out its space as much as possible and doing touring shows at other locations. But before it can do that, Henson said, it must first tackle and resolve the current $30,000 debt.
"Nobody wants to throw money at a sinking ship, so we want people to know we're working hard to be able to support ourselves more and more," Henson said. "We want to be around another 45 years."
Theatre Bristol officials said its potential closing is particularly hard to take because of the decades-long role the theater has played in helping children display their artistic talents and build their sense of self-confidence.
Arnold noted one regular Theatre Bristol child actress who suffers from cerebral palsy yet worked – through long, hard rehearsals – to learn and perform a dance number in a musical.
"What this theater provides makes a real difference in this community," Arnold said. "We just need the community to remember that and support us now. You don't want a day when people remember Theatre Bristol because they miss it being around."