Crookston, Minn. — Members of 18 community theater groups from across the state are in Crookston this week. They're here for the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres Play Festival.
Some people are here to perform. Others are here to participate in workshops. A session on grant writing is popular. Jon Skaalen says money for groups is tight. He's the MACT's secretary. He says state funding will likely be cut by 40 percent. And money from foundations and other arts funding sources is getting tighter and tighter.
"Many groups are getting rejection letters saying the stocks have not done well for us, we're having to cut back so you can expect either to have no money from us next year or to have less at least," says Skaalen.
Ticket sales are critical for community theaters. It's the only source of income for some troupes. Colleen Daugherty is the artistic director of the Duluth Playhouse. She says world events over the past year have affected the way community theaters work. Choosing plays, always a difficult task, gets even trickier.
"We kept saying now what if we were in war? Would this be something someone would go to?" says Daugherty. "And we had to keep rethinking what type of vehicles we're actually offering as entertainment in order to make sure that it is a great distraction from whatever is going on in order that it's worthwhile to go out to the theater."
Some of the seasons are shortening, people are a little skeptical about doing as many plays as they've done in the past. So they're maybe doing one less play next year or they're doing shows that don't cost quite as much money.
Daugherty says losing foundation money is painful. She says it limits the companies ability to do special projects. Hiring a guest artist to design a set for a production is now a luxury they can't afford.
"Usually this place we write to would have said that sounds like a great idea here you go and they said we're sorry we have no money for you," says Daugherty. "So I'm stuck at this moment saying we're still going to do the show but we don't have a designer you know? So it does make it difficult and we do feel the pinch."
Jon Skaalen of the Association of Community Theatres says many groups are in the same situation.
"Some of the seasons are shortening, people are a little skeptical about doing as many plays as they've done in the past," says Skaalen. "So they're maybe doing one less play next year or they're doing shows that don't cost quite as much money."
Skaalen says with money tight some theaters will be reluctant to produce new plays. If audiences are not familiar with a show it can hurt ticket sales. He says if a new play loses money it could put the entire organization at risk.
Ticket sales are important to Shirley Gunderson. She is treasurer for Playhouse 412, in Detroit Lakes. Gunderson has been a part of the community theater for 20 years.
She says Playhouse 412 raises it's entire $25,000 budget through ticket sales. Gunderson says in a small rural town, the community theater is more than just a playhouse for adults. It's a place where kids can come and learn either as performers or as audience members.
"They bond. There's discipline that they learn, memorization, camaraderie between each other, and watching out for each other, supporting each other. There's just a big advantage that way," she says.
Every community is responding differently to the funding crunch.
Gunderson says Playhouse 412 normally produces two plays a year. This season it will produce three in hopes of increasing revenue.
Jon Skaalen of the Association of Community Theatres says he's optimisitic. Community theaters have been operating in Minnesota since 1914. He says through good times and bad, most have found ways to survive.