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Q and A with Bruce LaRowe

by Mark Peres

March 5,2006

Charlotte Theater stands out as unique among professional theaters. How is it different?

Most children’s theaters across the country tend to focus on one or two areas such as mounting productions or conducting classes or touring productions. The Children’s Theatre is unique in that we are a “full service” theatre for youth, we have an active education program in schools and in the community, we mount a season of plays in ImaginOn, and we tour shows across the southeast. The Children’s Theatre is a professional theatre employing professional actors, technicians, and educators and serves audiences age 3-18.

The scope of the Theatre places it in the top 5 children’s theatres nationally in terms of budget and audience served. Our current budget is $3.6 million comprising a full-time staff of 35 and a part-time staff of 25. This year we will serve over 300,000 young people and their families at our home in ImaginOn, in schools, at locations throughout the community, and across the southeast.

The Theater has had quite a year. How would you assess the relocation to Imaginon and the response to the current season?

The response to our programs has been outstanding. We are setting records in terms of ticket sales and class registrations. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe broke all records for both attendance and ticket revenue. I think the fact of being downtown in a new location has attracted a great deal of interest. First-time visitors sample our programs and come back for additional offerings. I also know that we have benefited from visitors coming to the youth library spaces in ImaginOn as the Library has benefited from visitors to the Children’s Theatre.

Tell us more about your community outreach and education.

I think most people would be surprised to know that we provide programs in every grade, K-12, of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools as well as many private schools. This year alone we will take programs to, or have classes visit us, from 110 of the 150 CMS school sites. These programs are all curriculum based, developed in partnership with educators, and focused on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

One of our less visible programs to the public is our Drama for Healthy Living. In partnership with CMS, we have created programs for teenage students which focus on the serious issues of dating violence and substance and alcohol abuse. To address dating violence, we have partnered with the Shelter for Battered Women of the United Family Services (as a part of the CMS Personal Health Issues Curriculum) to present both a play and role playing workshops in health classes for all CMS 9th grade Students. The alcohol abuse program is focused on 8th grade students. The goal of the Drama for Healthy Living program is to help teenagers identify the warning signs of dangerous behavior and to provide them with the tools to make positive healthy choices. Drama is a unique means to convey and explore these messages.

Our Community Involvement Program provides opportunities for people who would otherwise not be able to afford to participate in Theatre programs. We conduct education programs in community sites, offer scholarships for students to participate in classes, and offer subsidized tickets for students and families to attend performances. The Arts and Science Council has called this a model program, and its scope and impact is unique among children’s theatres in the country.

What is your budget and where is the money coming from? How would you asses your financial status?

Of our $3.6 million budget, 50% is earned income representing ticket sales, class tuition, touring fees and investment income. The remaining 50% of the budget is contributed income. It consists of 20% through the Arts and Science Council and ArtsTeach, 25% contributed from individuals, corporations and fundraising events and 5% government. Thanks, in part, to a committed volunteer Board, we are in a strong financial position having completed 24 consecutive years without a deficit.

The city is moving away from subsidizing the operating expenses of arts organizations. How are arts organizations in Charlotte adjusting?

Arts organizations are increasingly required to generate more of their own revenue. I think the greatest growth opportunity is in contributions from individuals. Corporations have been very generous, but the needs of the cultural groups are outpacing the growth of corporate giving. I believe that is a national trend. As funding patterns evolve, not all organizations will be able to adjust. Those that have built strong relationships with their constituents will thrive and for others it will be a very challenging environment.

Tell us about next year. What’s on the horizon?

Next year will be very exciting for the Theatre with our new lineup of plays, classes and programs. In addition to our own work, we will continue to expand our shared programs with the Public Library in ImaginOn. There is great opportunity for shared programs around the common theme of storytelling – written stories of the Library and spoken stories of the Theatre.

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