The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Bietta Laflamme, Christine Dulong and Caraline Shaheen. Laura Lee Photography.

See The Wizard of Oz

Where: Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., Portsmouth
When: Dec. 5 through Dec. 28
Tickets: $22-$35
Contact:,  433-4993

Saving the Rep
Starting off fresh with The Wizard of Oz

By Kelly Sennott

 It’s a Tuesday night at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, and the ensemble for the company’s comeback show, The Wizard of Oz, is practicing the winkie march and chant.

There’s a no-nonsense air; the teens go through the choreography again and again after John Pirroni’s “Five, six, seven, eight!,” and upstairs, the Rep’s interim managing director Kathleen Cavalaro is doing what she’s been doing 24/7 for weeks now: working.
It’s almost 10 p.m.
They know there’s no time to spare; the company is still in the midst of an Indiegogo campaign to “Save the Rep,” started weeks prior after Rep artistic director Craig Faulkner stepped down. The board realized there was no time left to put off restructuring the nonprofit’s 26-year-old insecure business model, particularly in the absence of Faulkner, who had worn far too many theater hats while there.
“We literally had a meeting about whether we should just close the Rep for good or launch an immediate effort,” Cavalaro says in her office upstairs.
They chose the launch.
The campaign
The fundraising campaign (which lasts through Dec. 5, began Nov. 3, and the company asked for $50,000.
Some of that money would go toward The Wizard of Oz, which runs Dec. 5 through Dec. 28 and features professional lead actors, directors, designers, etc.; Faulkner also agreed to direct this last show. 
The rest will help the Rep “get out of the big mess in front of us,” in Cavalaro’s words.
Support was strong, and donors gave money both online and in person, locally and from afar. (Tom Bergeron of America’s Funniest Home Videos and Dancing With the Stars tweeted about his donation on Nov. 8.)
In the first week of the campaign, they garnered more than $60,000. The next goal is $269,000 by the end of 2015, which would “not only eliminate our deficit, it would allow us to run a substantial surplus, help create an endowment to insulate us from future difficulty, hire to augment our dwindling staff and make much needed repairs,” according to the Indiegogo website.
“We needed to first and foremost put some sort of cushion in place that would cover the upfront costs,” said Alan Gold, board president in a phone interview. “We’d eventually like to be able to invest back into the programming. In addition to mainstage, we have a very robust youth and teen program. … We also have a Senior Moments program. … And an adult entertainment program called the Red Light Series.”
Shortly after the campaign’s start, Cavalaro stepped down from her board position and began serving as interim managing director. Miles Burns, who lead the Rep’s youth program, took the interim artistic director position.
Company and board members were quite moved by the community’s generosity.
“I think the most touching moments of this were when kids came in to the box office with their allowances and emptied their piggy bank,” Cavalaro said.
But other supporters needed convincing. The Rep asking for money had become something of a cycle. They’d run out of money, ask donors to help, and then get stuck in a mess again.
“Eventually, the donors didn’t want to do that. They needed to see some sort of change in the structure,” Cavalaro said. “There have been a lot of people who have been on the fence about donating. I guess it’s because they’re confused about what’s going on. They know we’ve kind of messed up in the past, and want to know we have our act together before they contribute more money. That’s understandable, and I don’t blame them.”
So she and the board have been in full disclosure about their mistakes and how they’ll be fixed. 
How they’ll be fixed
In short, everything is changing.
“There wasn’t an implemented marketing plan,” Cavalaro said. “There wasn’t a dedicated person for development. Or grant writing, fundraising campaigns. From my understanding, they’ve come and gone. … And in my opinion, the budgets have been a little loaded. We may need to trim those down.”
It’s difficult being a nonprofit theater company, there’s no question about it; as the company often tells audience members, even if every single seat of the theater was filled the run of the show, it would still only make 67 percent of what’s needed to run the theater.
Great working models do exist locally — The Players’ Ring, whose board Cavalaro was once part of, has small costs and runs a profit. She also pointed to the Ogunquit Playhouse, which has a well-executed marketing plan and an administered staff with clear job titles and descriptions. 
“We don’t have well-established job descriptions,” Cavalaro said. Faulkner’s work as a managing, artistic and musical director in past shows is one example. Business and art was not separate.
“We’ve also had resident actors who get a salary, and who also have administrative jobs,” Cavalaro said. “There are times when there’s a big show going on, and we have a slim office that week because their time is being spent [performing].”
Or, as Gold puts it, “When there’s a show, nobody opens the mail.”
“It’s those kinds of decisions,” Cavalaro continued. “Should we make a clean cut so there’s no cross over? It’s just about restructuring the entire model.”
That new model is still in the works and ultimately will be the board’s decision. 
“The theater has a legacy. Mismanaged or not, it has produced brilliant works of art. The performances are always top notch. Craig Faulkner has left a beautiful legacy that I hope to maintain,” Cavalaro said. 
Cavalaro and interim artistic director Miles Burns, who had led The Rep’s PAPA (Portsmouth Academy of Performing Arts) youth programs, want to bring the community back to the Rep in a model of “never letting the theater go black.” 
“In our weekends where we don’t have shows … I’d love to open it up to the community so that we always have programming,” Cavalaro said.
They work so hard (Cavalaro quit her day job, Burns does this as the dad of a newborn infant) because of the role the Rep plays in Portsmouth.
“We have the Players’ Ring, which is a small box theater, the Music Hall, which is huge, but this is a venue with 235 seats,” Cavalaro said. “It fills to a certain need.”
It’s also unofficially designated as the Portsmouth theater that produces musicals, though Burns,  who also plays the Cowardly Lion in Oz, would like to see it present original work as well.
Another change: auditions.
“We haven’t been holding open auditions for a long time now,” Burns said. “We will be doing several auditions throughout the year. I want to get the community back in the building, and I want to get us all working together again.”
The impact
Cavalaro has been moved to tears over recent Rep performances, something she’s not wont to do. One was the Rep’s take of Hair, performed this spring. 
She was also quite moved by Run Turkey, Run, written and directed by Burns, adapted from a kids’ book. Children were at the edge of their seats laughing at the adult performers onstage. 
“Here’s this great guy working with these children who love and adore him. And these programs mean so much to these kids and their parents,” Cavalaro said. “The parents are so dedicated to the theater and to Miles because he creates such an impact on these kids. It’s palpable, and you can see how much it means to them.”
Gold is cautiously optimistic that this time is different, and he pointed out in the interview the importance of arts in Portsmouth. In 2012, for example, they brought $42 million to the city, according to a study by Americans for the Arts. Burns is as well.
“I haven’t been so excited to work alongside anybody as Kathleen in a very long time. Our communication lines are completely open.” 
As seen in the December 4, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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