By Howard Pousner
Roswell’s Georgia Ensemble Theatre has run up a $100,000 deficit, the worst in its 17 seasons, and is asking the public for help before its fiscal year ends Aug. 31.
In a strategy notably similar to Horizon Theatre’s “I [Heart] Horizon” campaign, in which the Little 5 Points troupe recently completed the raising of $100,000 to finish its 26th year in the black, Georgia Ensemble has launched a viral “I Get G-E-T” fund-raiser.
While Horizon’s debt was generally attributed to lagging ticket sales and cuts in corporate, foundation and government support, Georgia Ensemble Theatre is recoiling from a particular set of circumstances.
In April, just days before it was to open a season-closing production of “Grease,” the rights to produce the musical were rescinded, and the show had to be canceled. Instead, in eight days, it remounted a production of “Always … Patsy Cline.” However, because the effort was last minute, managing director Anita Allen-Farley said there wasn’t enough time or money to properly promote the musical, which was performed three fewer times than had been planned for “Grease.”
Further complicating matters, Georgia Ensemble Theatre had counted on “Grease” audiences being interested in an encore staging of last season’s hit musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” which was scheduled for a five-week run on the main stage at 14th Street Playhouse in Midtown. But “Patsy Cline,” a country musical, didn’t have the same rock ‘n’ roll synergy with “Buddy” as “Grease” would have.
“Maybe this was the universe slapping us down,” said Allen-Farley, whose husband Robert is GET’s artistic director and a former Alliance Theatre artistic director. “We were feeling a little overconfident … like we’d dodged the bullet. We’d kept all of our season sponsors … and we’d been making projections on all of our shows up to that point. And we’d thought, ‘Whew, thank heavens, one more year in this economy … we’re going to weather this storm.’”
Though “Patsy” and “Buddy” both performed decently under adverse circumstances, when the dust settled, GET was a startling $100,000 short.
“We operate like most arts organizations do … right on the edge,” Allen-Farley said. “So when something horrible happens you don’t always have the resources to weather the storm.”
Thus GET, which has borrowed some of its strategy from Horizon’s e-mail blasts, is searching for additional funding. In addition to soliciting individual donations via e-mails, its Web site (www.get.org), and encouraging supporters to host fund-raising parties, it’s sending letters to established donors seeking additional help and “calling everyone we can think of,” Allen-Farley said.
As with the Horizon fund-raiser, GET is trying to accentuate the positive: The plea comes off more like a soft sell than a gasp of desperation. Donors are being encouraged to feel invested by sending an e-mail detailing how they “Get G-E-T.”
“We’re not just trying to raise money but trying to engage our patrons in their ownership of this theater,” Allen-Farley said. “This isn’t Bob and Anita’s theater, or our board of trustees’ theater. We’re a 501(c)(3). It belongs to our patrons and the citizens of Fulton County and beyond.”