Broom Street Theater celebrates its 40th anniversary next season with plenty of hope for the future. Since succeeding the late Joel Gersmann in 2005, artistic director Callen Harty has kept the independent company focused on original works written by local playwrights, and slowly but surely the theater's longtime Williamson Street facility has been upgraded. Among other things, the theater's old, backless bleachers were replaced with more comfortable seating options and an ongoing landscaping project has made the theater's modest grounds more attractive.
But change has also come with new financial challenges, says Broom Street development director Jennifer Rae Poppy. "We're still trying to finish off the fund-raising for the new seating," she explains. "We finished the bleachers in January, but we still owe $1,500 on that project. Then, with all the flooding [this spring], our basement is very, very scary. We have to do emergency repairs, and that's going to be about $9,000."
The need for new cash doesn't stop there. As artistic director, Gersmann, who was the heart and soul of the company for over three decades, received "between $40,000 and $50,000" each year, says Poppy. But at present the theater is struggling to find the dollars just to pay Harty, technical director John Sable and Poppy small stipends at the end of the year. "Basically, we're an all- volunteer staff at this point," she notes.
Factor in much-needed work on the theater's floor and repaving of the building's driveway, and Broom Street is looking at tens of thousands of dollars in new expenditures for maintenance and upkeep. That, says Poppy, is in addition to the $30,000 in donations and grants the theater needs "at bare minimum" to keep operating each year.
An increase in ticket prices won't take up the slack. Gersmann was always proud of the fact that Broom Street offered the most affordable theater ticket in town, and Poppy says that tradition will continue. "We'd like to fund the general operating expenses every year without relying on ticket sales," she adds.
Who or what will pick up the slack? Well, Broom Street does have some financial angels, including Gersmann's mother, Irma, and sister, Gayle, who Poppy says gave generously to the bleacher project. But Poppy also admits that the theater must expand its donor base in order raise capital. She says the left-of-center theater would even welcome corporate partners, provided that their business practices dovetailed with Broom Street's political, social and environmental ideals. And she points to a new direct-mail campaign that the company will mount twice each year as an example of how the company is moving to a more proactive approach to fund-raising.
Then again, the first mailings don't go out until October, and Poppy would be very pleased if new funds started flowing sooner than that. Because the reality is that although Broom Street remains in the black and has managed not to dip into its modest savings over the past two years, that situation won't continue without strong community support. "Certainly we need donors and checks right now," Poppy says. "Anyone thinking of donating now shouldn't hesitate."