NAT announces plans to save theater, create solid future

The Board of Directors of New American Theater has announced a multi-part plan to save the financially-challenged theater by altering this year’s season, launching several community fund-raising efforts, moving forward with the finalist candidates for artistic director, and re-structuring the business model for next season.

“New American Theater is too important for the cultural life of Rockford and too important for the vibrancy of downtown to let the theater go dark,” says Ron Clewer, vice president of the NAT Board. “This is a very challenging economic time for the theater, but with the help of the community, and the changes we must make, we will work to ensure that high quality, artistically dynamic professional theater has a strong future at New American Theater.”

The financial goals for the current year and the future business model are to eliminate deficit spending, break the cycle of using next year’s season subscription sales to fund current season’s expenses, pay off bills, and begin to reduce short-term and long-term debt.

Clewer outlined the NAT plan in several stages:

The current season

The current production of the holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol, will continue its popular run through Dec. 24. Tickets are still available for some of the performances. Anyone wishing to purchase tickets can call the New American Theater box office at 964-6282.

Of the remaining four shows in the 2003-2004 season, NAT will produce Proof and Joseph. Proof, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award, opens Feb. 20 and will be directed by Chicago-area Director Jeff Christian. Christian previously directed the acclaimed production of Driving Miss Daisy at NAT. Joseph opens March 26 under the direction of Christy Montour-Larson from Colorado, who recently staged a successful production of Joseph at Rochester Civic Theatre in Minnesota.

To reduce costs, NAT will not produce Italian-American Reconciliation, which was scheduled to open in January, or Moon Over the Brewery, which was planned to be the last show in the season with an opening in May. Ticket-holders for those shows will be offered the opportunity to receive a charitable deduction for the value of those tickets or request a voucher for a discount on next year’s season. Sponsors will be offered alternative sponsorship opportunities.

“We explored every other alternative, but reducing the season was the only way for the theater to survive through this year,” explains Clewer. “We appreciate the efforts of the talented NAT actors and staff who would have worked on these shows, and we regret any inconvenience this may cause for our ticket-holders or sponsors. We all want NAT to survive and become a stronger organization.”

Community fund-raising efforts

A committee of board members and NAT supporters is working diligently to raise funds for the theater. Those efforts have already secured significant funding for the theater, and more will be necessary as the theater moves forward. Members of the Rockford media have volunteered to plan a fund-raising event in February to benefit NAT. The NAT Wing is seeking “little angels” to provide support at all levels to the theater. Young American Theater is currently assembling a fund-raising plan, and plans are well under way for the annual “Night of Stars” dinner/dance and raffle to be held March 12 at Giovanni’s.

“We are very grateful to the NAT supporters who have stepped forward with charitable gifts and fund-raising ideas. It is wonderful to see a committed group of ‘family members’ step forward to help with all of these efforts,” Clewer says. “We will be talking to many more potential donors about NAT’s plans and the need for their support, but we welcome and encourage anyone who loves NAT and live, professional theater to contact us. Our efforts are many, and our goal is to include everyone. If you do not hear from us quickly as you like, please step forward; we need all the community support possible.”

Artistic director search

A search committee of NAT board members, theater professionals, and community members has gone through an extensive process to identify four finalist candidates for the position of permanent artistic director. Those candidates will be interviewed in Rockford in January. More than 80 applicants from around the country originally applied. The new artistic director will select the shows for next year’s season, to be announced in late February or early March.

Model for the future

The NAT Board of Directors, with input from theater professionals and community leaders, is working to design a sustainable business model for future seasons of New American Theater. The group will look at such factors as the number of shows produced in a season, the number of performances scheduled for each show, collaborations that might support the theater, ticket pricing, and incentives and alternative revenue sources such as theater rental, summer programming in the theater and grant opportunities. The approach will be fiscally conservative and designed to enhance the long-term visibility of the theater.

“There is a great deal of work to be done for New American Theater, but we are excited about the community support and these plans that will create a more solid future for this community treasure, NAT,” says Clewer.

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