Why I Do Theatre FUNdraisers (When Sometimes They're Not So Fun)
I was drenched through my t-shirt, which ironically read “Nevertheless, she persisted.” My sneakers were soggy and sunk into the mud as I dragged a trashcan filled with props through the park. My daughter, a volunteer, and I struggled to take down the sopping wet canopies which were supposed to shelter people from the rain at the event I’d named The Shelter Plays. It was a 3-day event where 26 actors performed six, short plays in park picnic shelters. The goal was to raise much needed funds for local theaters, which have taken a huge hit since March when they went dark.
It was the 3rd and final day of the fundraiser. At best, we would raise $2,000 for the entire event. Usually, I try not to think about how many hours go into putting on such an event. However, as I slogged through the rain my brain was doing a quick calculation: 26 actors, 4 directors, 5 writers multiplied by at least 40 hours each equals . . . and don’t forget the volunteers . . . Yeah, best not to go there.
It wasn’t the first time I’d thought, “If every volunteer took an eight-hour shift at McDonald’s we’d make more money than this event will raise in 3 days.”
The fundraiser involved a $12 ticket; attendance at my pity party was free.
But after a hot soak in fragrant bath salts, a cold margarita, pizza, several 1-hour dramas about characters with real problems (Hello? The Chi? Perry Mason?), the sting of getting rained out on the last day of our fundraiser wasn’t so severe. Then . . .
I sat down to refund tickets for the performance that didn’t happen. I watched the money we’d raised get lower and lower and now it is 3 a.m. and I can’t sleep. Why did I do it? No one asked me to take on a fundraiser. It’s no longer my job. So, why couldn’t I just find something else to occupy my time? The weeds in my yard make the rainforest seem tame.
“It wasn’t just about raising money for the theatre”.
Who said that? My cat is snoring softly next to me.
“It was about creating theatre to raise money for the theater.”
Okay. I don’t know who’s talking to me, but you got me. I’m no saint. I came up with The Shelter Plays because I wanted to make theatre. Yes, I wanted to write plays, I wanted to direct them, and I wanted to share them with the public. It had been almost six months; I was jonesing. See, theatre isn’t a hobby. It’s not a job. It’s -- well, it’s what I do to stay sane. Some people run. Some people – well, I don’t know what they do, but I make theatre. "And did you get to do all that?"
Yes, I also got to nurture some new playwrights. I got to see directors bring out the best in a script. I got to see actors breathe life into the writer’s words. While one of the three performances got washed out, the pleasure gained in creating live theatre this weekend is still there.
"So, why can't you sleep?"
Because you're greedy.
Yes, I wanted more. I wanted to raise more money. I wanted that 3rd performance. I didn’t want it to end in thunder, lightning, and cast and crew huddled under picnic shelters.
"Irony is everywhere, ain’t it?"
I'm glad you're amused -- whoever you are. Yes, the event was titled The Shelter Plays, and that’s exactly how we concluded: Twenty-something actors/crew and a smattering of stalwart theatre goers running for shelter. “It’ll pass,” I said. “It’s just a drizzle,” I joked. Then Mother Nature upstaged us, and we made a break for our cars as the rain flooded the streets.
"Face it, toots, you're no professional fundraiser." You're right. I create events because it’s fun – mostly. Some people remember how much work things are, but ultimately I remember the pleasure. The joy in bringing people together is worth the heartbreak of one cancelled show. On Friday and Saturday night, when the actors performed, beamed during their bows, and the eyes of audience members twinkled above their masks, it put the fun in the fundraiser.
Speaking of the audience --
Don't interrupt me! At first, when people arrived at the check-in table, I didn’t recognize them because of their masks. I recognized their voice, though. I wanted to throw my arms around them and hug them. But I didn’t, because – you know -- Covid. Cyndi and Mark and Janice and John, people whom I usually only see in the lobby at a show. I think I miss the audience as much as I miss the creating. They are kin and it had been too long.
"So, it wasn't a complete wash?"
Has anyone told you that you're not funny? Okay, so I am still sad we didn’t hit our fundraising goal and our final day was cancelled, but we had two beautiful evenings of theatre in the park, and we recreated community for some 90 people who attended, and we breathed life into 6 new plays, and for the time it took to perform them maybe people forgot. Forgot about the divisions within our country. Forgot that the economy is in the tank. Forgot about Covid. Forgot that there’s no cure and there’s no vaccine and the test results take too fucking long to get back, and school starts in a few weeks and who the hell knows what’s next? Murder hornets?
"Okay, take a deep breath."
The tall trees in the park sheltered us for 2 hours on Friday and Saturday night. The rustle of the leaves added to the applause. Two, beautiful, summer nights with friends, seated respectfully apart, wearing masks, enjoying live theatre. It felt almost normal. And it felt really, really good. But it is now 4 a.m. on the morning after, and I don’t ever want to do another fundraising event again. Ever.
But there are all those vacant spaces in the mall. I wonder . . .
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If you would like to donate to the Fire Hall Theatre, now in its 73rd season, please go to www.ggfct.com, or donate to The Empire Arts Theatre, www.empireartscenter.com. They could really use your help right now.
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Writing challenge: Think of something that's bothering you and have a conversation with your wiser, calmer self. Let her/him speak to you, ask you questions. See what s/he says.