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Citing 'urgent cash need,' Playhouse launches fundraising blitz

FLAT ROCK — Citing an "an urgent need for cash to support its operations," the Flat Rock Playhouse has launched a 30-day fundraising blitz to raise $300,000.

The money would help sustain its production and education programs and replenish cash reserves that have been drained during the tough economic times at the height of the recession.
To jumpstart the campaign, the family of long-time Playhouse supporter Duane McKibbin has pledged $60,000 as a challenge grant. If the community raises $240,000 in donations by June 30, the Playhouse will receive the grant.
The fundraiser comes while Playhouse administrators are seeking money from government sources during the annual budget-making of counties and towns. The Playhouse wants state legislators to allow Henderson County's Travel & Tourism agency to raise to hotel tax from 5 to 6 cents, earmarking the proceeds, about $220,000 a year, to the Playhouse. The Playhouse has also asked for $100,000 each from the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and Hendersonville City Council to complete work on its downtown space. It received $25,000 from the Flat Rock Village Council in January and is requesting the same amount for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The Playhouse received good news Tuesday night when the Board of Commissioners agreed to grant $100,000 for the budget year starting July 1 and endorse an increase in the county's hotel tax from 5 to 6 percent. The commissioners did not commit to channeling the proceeds, roughly $220,000 a year, to the Playhouse but did ask state legislators to file a bill for the increase.
The Playhouse has set a goal of attracting 3,000 donors during the campaign to help broaden its base of support. Despite nearly 100,000 attendees at the theater last year, the Playhouse has only about 400 donors. "This places Flat Rock Playhouse dead last in terms of the number of donors among 25 similar professional theaters," it said in a news release.
Vincent Marini, the producing artistic director of the Playhouse, said in an interview that a combination factors led the organization to launch the blitz now, including the McKibbin family's offer to seed the campaign with a challenge grant, a need to make up for lost revenue from season ticket sales especially in 2010 and a need to replenish cash reserves.
"We really are profitable organization for a relatively short period of time," he said, generally May through September, "because our audience is so much bigger during those months. In the past we've relied on subscriptions (for season ticket sales) to get us through the months when we traditionally lose money to get to the months when we make money."
The Playhouse has "had to use its cash reserves earlier and earlier," he said. "We always have a cash crunch in mid to late spring," he said. In the past season ticket sales bridged the gap. Sales plunged in 2010. The box office recovered somewhat in 2011 and this year it had the largest pre-season ticket sales ever. The McKibbin offer, the largest single private donation not associated with a capital campaign, triggered the blitz. "We have an opportunity to fix the problem opportunity," he said.
Going back to a summer season schedule is not an option, he said, because the economics of the theater has changed.
"As time has gone on, the cost it takes to maintain the property, a fulltime staff and all these ancillary costs have obviously risen year after year," he said. The theater in 2009 "really ran about as lean as it possibly can run. We made the decision that at some point if you keep cutting back you're cutting your business away completely."
Instead of cutting, the Playhouse added Music on the Rock and the Playhouse Downtown performances and greatly expanded its YouTheatre enrollment to lengthen its income stream.
A major goal is to expand the donor base. "Right now we're raising about 40 percent of what most theaters in our budget class our raising," he said. "If we were even raising 60 percent we would run a surplus every year."
The Flat Rock Playhouse 30-Day Challenge launches Friday. It is chaired by Board of Trustees president Bill McKibbin, assistant secretary Mary McGlashan, and past president Steve Johnson.
"Tough economic times have hit the Playhouse hard over the past four years. At the same time, we recognized the need to make important investments to enhance our theater experience and extend our education programs," McKibbin, president of the Flat Rock Playhouse Board of Trustees and the son of Duane McKibbin, who died in 2009, said in a news release. "This perfect storm stretched our cash but the investments are paying off. Production quality, season ticket subscriptions, education enrollment and outreach are at all-time highs."
"This is a rare opportunity do something that has an immediate impact and I'm pleased our family can help, " McKibbin said. "The Playhouse needs to rebuild its cash reserves in order to help weather the normal ups and downs of any theater season, particularly after the tough economic times experienced throughout the region over the past four years."

Information: Visit www.flatrock30days.org, call 828.693.0403 x221, or visit the Box Office. Donations can also be sent to 30 Day Challenge, c/o Flat Rock Playhouse at PO Box 310, Flat Rock, NC 28731.