By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
The Black Swamp Players have announced to its members that the theater troupe is suspending operations after its production of “On Golden Pond” in April.
The play is the last production of its 50th season. It may be the troupe’s last … or maybe not. President Lane Hakel said that his opinion of what the final outcome will be depends on the day.
“We’re in a weird position for a non-profit,” Hakel said. “We have enough money to continue, but we don’t have enough people.”
It takes people to build and paint sets, handle all the technical details, as well as administrative work to stage four shows a year – a musical and three “straight” plays. The troupe’s musical “The Secret Garden” ended is two weekend run on Sunday.
“This used to be a labor of love, now it’s just a labor,” Hakel said. No there just are not enough to do the work needed to stage another season.
Casting has not been a problem this season. “Secret Garden” drew a good turnout of newcomers to the Players. Hakel credited it to the popularity of the show, and to the good reputation of director, Cassie Greenlee.
The board has been discussing the fate of the troupe “for years, not just months,” Hakel said. Whether this is intermission before a triumphant resolution in the second act or whether this is the final curtain will depend on response to the news of the suspension. If other newcomers step forward, or former volunteers who’ve taken a hiatus return and bring “positive contributions” with them, then the Players can survive.
A final decision will be made next January. The Players will hold its annual banquet, awards ceremony, and election of officers in May.
“If we come back, it will be a new community theatre with an injection of cash that just happens to be called the Black Swamp Players,” Hakel said. The current structure of four productions – several years ago it as five – will have to change.
Last August the troupe announced a Fifty for Fifty campaign, to raise $50,000 toward finding a new home. That campaign go off to a good start with two $10,000 donations. Now, that and any other money raised for the effort will be returned, Hakel said.
The Players did look for new homes, but couldn’t find the right place at the right price or a theatrical partner to share the costs.
Since 2000, the Players’ home has been in the fellowship hall at First United Methodist Church. While grateful for the church’s generosity, the space has limitations.
The acoustic are bad and the stage in cramped. The idea of attending theatre in a church hall turns some people off. And the presence in the church limits some productions that have certain adult language and themes.
The success of a production of the comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” in 2016 at the Clazel indicated to the troupe it may need a new venue.
Hakel said the audience for the shows has dropped by half in the past decade. A non-musical play attracts about 40 a show while the musical are bigger draws. “The Secret Garden,” drew about a 100 a show during its run.
The troupe has been losing $1,000 a year, he said.
The Players will also have to sort out arrangements with Horizon Youth Theatre. The youth troupe was folded into the Players and has a seat on the board of trustees. Though they are technically the same organization, they have maintained separate identities.
The troupes have cooperated on productions notably “Seussical the Musical” and “Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” Greenlee does most of her work with Horizon, and Horizon parents have acted in BSP shows. Stephanie Truman and Thomas Edge, HYT president, will have roles in “On Golden Pond.”
Edge said HYT “maintained a lot of autonomy.”
“They gave us space to do what we need to do,” he said. “We really respected that.” He said the Players’ board has involved HYT through the discussions of its future.
Hakel said it looks likely that should the Players disband, Horizon could maintain the non-profit status.
Also, the Players will have to divvy up whatever cash the troupe has left on hand, and Horizon would be among the beneficiaries.
Edge said he’s confident HYT is in “a healthy place in terms of organization.” He expects there will be some changes, but that the troupe will continue its work.
He is using the situation to remind people that more volunteers for Horizon are always needed. “We need people with lots of different talents.”
That’s especially true because unlike most other arts organization, Horizon operates 12 months a year with classes and productions.
Hakel said that when he took on the job of president a year and a half ago, it was with the realization that he might be in this position, and could he live with it. He decided he could, but it hasn’t been easy.
He’s left feeling they’ve let down all the previous Players who kept the troupe going through tough times. It couldn’t have been any easier 45 years ago, he said.
The letter to members stated: “We are well aware of the disappointment many of you will feel. We, too, are disappointed. We know that many of you served our organization in the past both ably and well and then left the future of the organization in our hands. We very much feel that we have let you down.”
Still the board had to face the reality that they’ve done all they can. Now all they can do is wait and see what response they get.