State of the stage

Area live theatre companies step back from the financial edge

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: [l-r] Dayton Theatre Guild Board members Patty Smith, President Kathy Mola and Rick Flynn

Two major factors, financial stability and artistic standards, frame a discussion of what people closely involved in community theatre talk about as they assess the state of their stages. The money and the choice of what and how each season is produced must be balanced, maybe juggled, and dozens of decisions have to be considered.

I talked to Kathy Mola, president of the Dayton Theatre Guild Board of Directors; Brian Sharp, chairman of the of the Dayton Playhouse board; and Kevin Moore, producing artistic director of the professional Human Race Theatre.

Mola, relatively new to Dayton, feels she has been welcomed by the theatre community; Brian Sharp was first on the Playhouse stage as a third grader; Kevin Moore is one of the three founders of the Human Race Theatre Company. Each believes success for one group is good for all and for Dayton.

All faced various struggles this year and have reached some level of improvement and space to breathe. The Dayton Theatre Guild feels its careful and provident budgeting and spending restraint has put it in a most comfortable position. The Dayton Playhouse board had to take a very hard look at the whole picture about four years ago and has been relieved at the results. The Human Race acknowledged severe problems this fall, made a realistic budget downsizing, got some financial contributions, is in the midst of professional consultation with Strategic Leadership Associates and now awaits its plan for change and improvement in March of 2015.

The Dayton Theatre Guild feels its best fiscal achievement is owning its “new” property on Wayne Avenue, free and clear six years after purchase. The guild solicited and saved for years, not buying until it felt it could handle the remaining mortgage. It took three years to pay it off. The guild continues to use a special fund for renovations and improvements.

The winter season is busy, with rehearsals, set building and productions leaving limited available open time. But over the past two summers, the Dayton Theatre Guild has donated a few weeks to a theatre program for autistic children. It also rents out space for fundraisers and uses summer time to make their own facility improvements.

Production costs are covered by subscription fees and walk-in tickets sales. Without paid staff, but with enormous energy, volunteers and the 15 board members do everything else. “Everything” ranges from the fun stuff, such as directing, acting, designing and building, right down to keeping the rest rooms clean and chasing dust.

The Dayton Theatre Guild’s goals include making theatre more appealing and viable for a new generation of young professionals

“We will move carefully with small steps,” Mola said. “We value our core members [and] appreciate younger people who come out to participate, including on our board. We’re looking at play selection seriously, and, as always, we won’t spend money ’til we have it.”

The Playhouse had serious problems four years ago: air conditioning went out at the beginning of the intense six-play FutureFest in late July, the roof needed repair, budgets had not been well managed and finances were in shambles. The 14-member board and its chairman looked hard at why this happened and how to fix it. They analyzed and scrutinized every detail, eliminated and reduced spending, sought contributions, got a grant and budgeted tightly for current and future expenses. The building is now repaired. They’ve added a very small fee for non-Dramatists Guild members for FutureFest submissions and many other tightenings. Their musicals are crowd pleasers, mounted carefully and good moneymakers.

“We are now stable,” Sharp proclaimed with justifiable pride. “We have a very hard-working, dedicated board, with no major debt.”

Their building in Wegerzyn Gardens formerly belonged to Dayton, and it was “given” to them about 15 years ago. With the gift came total responsibility for maintenance, upkeep, utilities and all related expenses. “It was a learning curve, not only of how to support ourselves, but how to continue tasks previously the city’s responsibility,” Sharp said.

The Dayton Playhouse’s goals include emphasizing tech subjects, perhaps with classes or workshops; possibly another production with Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra, given the recent success of “Les Mis”; and possibly working with Vandalia Youth Theatre.

The Human Race Theatre, beyond requests for more financial contributions and grant support, is analyzing reduced expenditures as it awaits the consultants’ report. It’s looking at the effect cuts in the marketing budget had on ticket sales. As a professional company, its expenses, in addition to usual rent, utility and production costs, are different from those of local groups – it pays everyone, and it transports and houses non-area actors. Play selection is critical while it maintains and stretches the highest artistic standards, as all do.

The Human Race Theatre brings to Dayton New York-quality plays: funny, serious, make-you-think and, occasionally, well-polished new scripts and their playwrights. It employs local experienced actors, including some of Wright State University’s well-trained grads and professional Equity actors.

Moore mused on the effect a decreased emphasis on the arts in education now and in the past two decades has had on awareness and interest in theatre. “Perhaps,” Moore said, “if you’ve never seen a play or been in one, you missed knowing how captivating live theatre really is.”

Coming soon to a theatre near you

Artistically, the state of the stage is robust; familiar, new or experimental, all is good. The Guild’s doing a recent off-Broadway hit, “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, on Jan. 9-25. For more information, please call 937.278.5993 or visit The Playhouse presents the lovingly nostalgic “The Fantasticks,” opening Jan. 23, and the Race opens “Family Shots” on Jan. 22. For more about both, please check back for the January “On Stage” column.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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