How many times have you heard it? How many times have you said it?
The notion that the greater Tri-Cities area does not have enough cultural activities is just hogwash, especially given the number of new events, restaurants and entertainment venues that have popped up in every city and town.
It’s especially puzzling that two of our oldest and finest venues for the fine arts are struggling to maintain the bottom line.
As Staff Writer Jonathan Roberts reported in Saturday’s edition, Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, has issued a call for help amid a sluggish summer season for ticket sales. The nonprofit operation collects 64% of its budget from ticket sales, with most of the other 36% coming from donations.
The board cut spending by $250,000 in response the shortfall, but Barter still needs to raise $500,000-$750,000 between current efforts and its annual year-end fund drive.
And as we reported in June, the Johnson City Community Theatre also faces a budget crunch between rising production costs and fluctuating funding.
These are not just any theaters. They’re part of this region’s DNA.
At 86 years old, Barter is the longest-running professional Actors’ Equity Association theater in the nation. Famous alumni include Oscar winners Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine and Kevin Spacey, as well as actors Hume Cronyn, Frances Fisher and Ned Beatty.
The Johnson City Community Theatre is the longest-running community theater in Tennessee and the sixth longest in the nation.
Neither should have to worry about drawing visitors. Both offer quality live entertainment at a fraction of the price of big-city show — often with the same content. For example, Barter’s version of Mel Brooks’ musical comedy, “The Producers,” runs from Sept. 19 to Nov. 9. The play won more Tony Awards than any show history, and you can see it here in this region.
Soon, the region will have another performance venue that will also need patronage. East Tennessee State University’s James C. and Mary B. Martin Center for the Arts is expected to open in about a year. As Roberts reported Monday, the center’s capacity and technical capabilities will allow for larger and more complex performances than the region traditionally has been able to draw.
The Martin Center will be a welcome addition giving local arts lovers one more reason to spend time and money here at home. Meanwhile, ETSU various fine and performing arts programs continue to entertain at existing venues with plays concerts, exhibits and film showings.
You can keep the performing arts alive here. See a show. Buy season tickets. Donate.
Barter: To donate or buy tickets online, visit www.bartertheatre.com. To donate by phone, call (276) 619-3315, and to buy tickets by phone, call (276) 628-3991.
Johnson City Community Theatre: To donate or reserve tickets, visit the theater’s website at jccommunitytheatre.org, call (423) 491-5053 or email[email protected].
ETSU: For schedules, ticket and giving information at the Mary B. Martin School of Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/cas/martin/, call 423-439-8587 or e-mail [email protected]. For ETSU theater and dance: www.etsu.edu/cas/theatre/.