Theater’s call for help answered
NAUGATUCK — Earlier this month, the Phoenix Stage Company was on the brink of collapse.
On Thursday, Managing Director Ed Bassett fielded calls in the black box theater’s storefront space, full of plans for the theater’s one-act festival in May.
The nonprofit community theater, located at 686 Rubber Ave., has gained a following in the area since it was founded almost three years ago. It will survive to put on more shows after a Facebook plea for money raised more than $2,000 in two days.
“It’s never an easy thing to do, to ask for help, but we did, and the response was overwhelming and extremely positive,” Bassett said.
A cold snap last month kept people in their houses and away from the theater’s production of “Murder at the Prop Table,” Bassett said. Then, this month’s blizzard postponed a planned sketch comedy weekend. Without those ticket sales, the nonprofit theater company was short money for rent and utilities, Bassett said.
“We are in real danger of having to close our doors for good unless we get some help from our friends and donors,” the company posted on its Facebook page Feb. 11. “While we are planning our annual fund campaign, we simply can’t wait to send out forms and cards — we need your help now — we need to raise in excess of $2,000 to meet our current obligations, or we will have to close our doors.”
Hundreds of people shared the post, and within two days the money was raised through small donations from volunteers, performers and patrons, Bassett said.
Although interest and audiences have grown steadily since the 70-seat theater opened, it is far from self-sustaining, Bassett said. Last year’s fundraising drive, on which the theater relies for the bulk of its expenses, had a goal of $20,000 and raised $5,300, Bassett said. The theater company budgeted accordingly, but did not have any surplus at the end of the year, Bassett said.
Last year, ticket sales covered the gap between the end of one year and the start of the next campaign, but the theater did not sell the same number of tickets this year and heat costs were higher, Bassett said.
Those who run the theater group — Bassett, President Sharon Wilcox and Vice President Agnes Dann — hope they never have to beg for help on Facebook again.
“It’s kind of like a flood hitting your house unexpectedly,” Bassett said. “What it forces you to do is really go back and look at budgets and look at where you can save, look at the emergency fund.”
Now that the group is more than two years old, it qualifies for grants and is looking for a grant writer, Bassett said. Each show will be performed fewer times, cutting back on royalty costs, Bassett said. The group is also choosing newer works over more established ones because the new plays are drawing bigger audiences, he said.
The group’s long-term goals include a reserve fund to weather emergencies and a building to call their own.
Most people involved in the theater were initially from other towns, but more are joining from the borough, Bassett said. The group boosts the local economy when patrons go to borough restaurants before shows and stop by supermarkets or gas stations afterward, he said.
“We owe it to the people who sent us the letters and the cards and the support, we owe it to them to continue and to work hard and to move forward and to stay in the community,” Bassett said. “In the Naugatuck Valley, the people are so talented and the audiences are hungry for it.”