Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We Interrupt Our Regular Programming...

Posted by Bruce Miller
I love WCVE-FM and public radio. Honestly, it’s the only radio station I listen to—even during pledge drives. I sometimes try to turn my dial to other stations rather than listen to the heartfelt pleas for contributions, but I’m never very successful. I find myself always coming back to my comfortable, rewarding radio home.

The pledge are necessary, I know. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if in the middle of Boleros for the Disenchanted, Shining City, Boys’ Life, Souvenir, Irma Vep, Mahalia, The Ugly Duckling, I’m Not Rappaport, The New Century, or Much Ado … the Managing Director stepped out from the wings and stopped the show.

“We interrupt our regular programming,” she might say, “to ask you, our listeners, to donate the money we need to survive. We only do this every six months during our pledge drives. But we won’t stop interrupting our shows until we raise the funds we need.”

I’m being facetious, of course. It’s apples and oranges. But still, were we to try something like this, our poor managing directors would be pummelled with every balled up playbill and loose arm rest in the house.

Live theatre isn’t something you can put on hold while you ask your audience for money. The connection is too immediate and intense. You can’t turn it on and off. Breaking that connection mid-performance would be unthinkable.

And yet any of us who work in this crazy business know full well that the funds needed to keep our nonprofit professional theatres alive are just as necessary as the funds needed to support public television and public radio. Public radio commentators lament that less than 15% of their funding comes from government grants. At Barksdale, we receive less than 2% of our funding from local, state and federal funds.

So here’s a modest proposal—I hope it won’t be perceived as too subversive by my friends at WCVE-FM. And if it is, not to worry. Nobody out there takes this blog seriously.

What if each theatre in town had a fund set up to pay for “sponsorships” on WCVE-FM? I'm talking about an official fund with which WCVE is directly connected. “Sponsorships” are those little 20-second promos that say something akin to “All Things Considered is brought to you today by Henley Street Theatre, now presenting Shining City, a bold and fascinating new play by Conor McPherson, starring Joe Inscoe and Larry Cook.” If such special funds existed at the theatres, when theatre lovers wanted to support WCVE-FM, they could donate their $60 or whatever to their favorite theatre rather than directly to the radio station. As the money is donated, the theatres could call in the funds raised to the radio station, so WCVE could still keep up with their pledges.

All the money donated would then be used to promote the nonprofit theatre on WCVE-FM. The money would go to WCVE (so it would be a win for them) AND the money would also support the nonprofit theatre that needs to pay dearly for those “sponsorships." The donor would be supporting both public radio AND the Richmond nonprofit theatre of their choice. A win-win.

The money raised might actually be greater; donors like win-wins.

It’s worth a moment’s thought.

--Bruce Miller


Jacquie O. said...

Love it Bruce. Henley is doing something like this - but not quite. We are donating all our preview night ticket sales this year to WCVE in exchange for their on-air sponsorship during the first week of our show. Certainly a win-win for both of us. But your idea really expands on this. Any theatre managers want to meet to flush this idea out?

Angela said...

Bruce, This sounds like a great idea. Don't you have some connections at Barksdale and Theatre IV? Maybe you could get them to try it!

Seriously, who wouldn't want their money to do double-duty?

An even better scenario might be a theater consortium that accepted donations for this purpose and somehow divvied up the funds. The thought of exactly how this would work makes my head hurt, but I bet there are people out there like me who can't afford to donate to every theater in town but really want to support Richmond theater in general.

This would be similar, but more focused and more lithe, to what the Arts Council of Richmond used to do, I guess.