Can Egyptian raise $15,000?
January 23, 2009
It’s the oldest cliché in acting, but Paul Dorius, the executive director of the Egyptian Theatre, wants to make sure people hear it: The show must, and will, go on at the Egyptian during the recession.
The historic theater on Main Street is not closing its doors. It has no plans to cancel any of the five plays and musicals slated for 2009 and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" will begin as scheduled Feb. 13, Dorius added.
But the bad economy has left many seats empty since the theater staged "Cabaret" in April and has continued to put a dent in the theater’s bottom line. Attendance woes worsened in the summer when, despite good reviews, "Altar Boyz" attracted fewer than 50 people per performance during its six-week run. Now, producers have about two weeks to raise an additional $15,000 to put on "Forum," a satire whose budget totals about $45,000.
Rumors of the theater’s impending closure have swirled around town since a former board member, and some Sundance Film Festival alum based in Los Angeles, launched a campaign last week to raise money for the Egyptian. The campaign, Save the Egyptian, has garnered a flurry of donations from festival attendees, but it has also raised speculation among locals that the theater was in danger of shutting down.
"The message was misinterpreted as ‘we’re closing our doors if we don’t get help, but we’re going to battle through no matter what," said Terence Goodman, the Egyptian’s artistic director. "We are excited about what we have coming in the future. We don’t want the town in any way to think we’re closing our doors."
Dorius said times are worse than they were last year, but not unprecedented. "It’s been a daily battle for the Egyptian Theatre for 27 years," he said. "We always run on a very thin margin and times have made it thin again."
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Stacy Hess, who has served on the Egyptian’s board of directors, came up with the idea for Save the Egyptian in November. Hess lived in Park City for eight years and owns a public relations firm in Los Angeles. When she heard the theater was having financial trouble, she gathered her artist friends in Park City and Los Angeles to rally behind the Egyptian, a longtime screening location for Sundance. She said the goal of the campaign is to provide the theater with a "sustainable foundation of support" that will remain unfettered in the slow economy. From the beginning, she said, the response has been positive. While the theater will not close, she underscored the importance of having a long-term survival strategy for the theater.
"The Egyptian is really close to my heart," Hess said. "The idea was born out of my desire to serve the community. It’s hard to keep yourself afloat with just ticket sales and one fundraiser a year. We want the artists to focus on the art without having to chase donors."
Hess enlisted the help of her friend, filmmaker Angela Shelton, to interview celebrities, public officials and locals to share their memories of the theater. She plans to turn the video vignettes into a documentary to raise money. Shelton said anyone can post a video on YouTube about the Egyptian, but most important way to help is to buy tickets and donate directly to the theater. In addition to raising money and awareness, the vignettes have also helped clear up misconceptions out-of-towners harbor about the theater. "They think it’s just a movie theater, not an equity house, and they think it makes a lot of money from Sundance," she said.
Goodman admitted being taken aback when he heard of the Save the Egyptian campaign. Now, he is thankful for the boost.
"They really, on their own, decided to take this on," he said. "We want to be supportive of anyone who wants to support us. It’s no secret that these are hard times for the Egyptian and other nonprofits."
The Egyptian has cut its budget by about 40 percent for 2009, from $450,000 to $280,000. Goodman insisted the cuts won’t affect quality. "It’s just about being smart about what you pick and being penny-wise," he said.
When asked why she decided to volunteer her time and equipment to make the film, Shelton recalled her first encounter with the theater, when "Tumbleweeds" premiered there 10 years ago. "I was five feet out of my seat the whole time," she said. Now she hopes the Egyptian’s future won’t be up in the air.