Spring a time of promise, planning at Turnage

Published 12:07 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring is usually my favorite season. The birds sing louder, the trees flower and the air has a promise of renewal. Even though spring is the season in which our Turnage season ends, also it is the time of promise and planning for what is to come.

At least, that is usually the case. This year, however, as the birds sing and the flowers bud, we are making no plans and feeling no promise. This year, we are forced to sit and wait and see if our economic winter will ever end, or if this season’s end will be our last.

For many people, this will seem hard to believe. Anyone who has attended a Turnage show in the past three months will remember sell-out crowds and happy patrons and will wonder what has gone wrong? And with good reason, as this has been our best-attended season thus far; one would expect us to be poised for continued success. I know you’ve heard before that theaters cannot survive on ticket sales alone. The situation we find ourselves in is a clear proof of its truth.

Though we have managed to lessen the burdens of our mortgage, which should have eased our situation this year, we have at the same time lost the support of the City of Washington, which has effectively reduced our operating budget by a third. We must now rely on individuals and local businesses to step in and fill a $70,000 gap, without which we most certainly will not see a season five.

Where does the money go? There are three full-time employees of the theater, and each has the benefit of health insurance, and each represents a payment of unemployment tax. There is an electric bill that ranges from $3,000 to $5,000 each month, as well as phone and Internet service. The building must be maintained and safe, and inspections to ensure that it is kept to specific standards must be paid for. And then there are basic costs like printing, advertising and mailing, so that, in the event that we are able to book a season, we can make sure everyone knows about it.

As for paying the performers, their travel and lodging expenses and sometimes their dinner bills (though thanks to many of our generous restaurants, we have been able to mitigate these in the last season), more often than not these expenses are the ones covered when you purchase your tickets. Ticket sales, you see, ensure that the performances take place, but they do nothing to ensure that there is a place for the performance. That is the conundrum of this gloriously refurbished historic Turnage Theater.

What can be done? Donations of any amount will be greatly appreciated. Contact your city representatives and urge them to assist us in whatever means possible. Make sure that your neighbors and legislators are aware of what we do here, and what you feel the Turnage brings to the community. And if you are not sure, if you wonder whether the Turnage impact is really that great, then the next time you drive down Main Street, imagine a derelict marquee with the letters CLOSED hung upon it and a series of windows boarded shut with graffiti-laden plywood; imagine the difference that might make to visitors to our community and to our community itself.