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How to help Johnson City Community Theatre

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jun 17, 2019 at 9:20 AM

It's often a passion for the arts that helps keep the doors of the Johnson City Community Theatre open, according to J.J. Jeffers, a lifetime member of the Johnson City Community Theatre.

But despite community support from patrons of the state’s oldest community theater, he said funding can always be an issue to consider.

Jeffers says community theaters are subjected to the “ebbs and flows” of popularity and funding. While some community theaters, like the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, receive financial help from the city, Johnson City Community Theatre receives no such assistance to keep up with inflating operating costs that include building expenses, production expenses and royalties that can cost thousands every month.

“We are the only local theater that does not get funding from their local city or full backing, which some theaters do. We get zero,” he said. Still, he said he was confident that “someone will always be there” to help the theater keep its head above water.

“It’s a volunteer thing; we sort of take pride in that.”

On Wednesday, Jeffers spoke to the Johnson City Press about the funding difficulties facing the theater, the importance of supporting the arts in Johnson City and ways in which locals can help keep the community theater going.

Jeffers said the Johnson City Community Theatre — now in its 107th season — is a cultural fixture in the city.

“When it all comes down to it, we’re providing entertainment, and we have people who come in from all over the country sometimes, especially if they have family members in the show or people they know in the show,” he said.

“It’s a springboard for a lot of young talent that would like to move on and go onto Broadway, TV, film. We have several of our members who have gone on and done television and film.”

For young people who participate and help with the productions, the community theater teaches them more about teamwork and self-expression.

“There’s a lot of issues that you can teach kids and get through to children through theater, theater classes and theater for young audiences,” he said. “And it’s good social networking, especially with all the technology out there (where) it's easy for children to lose social connections — actual social connections.”

He said people from as far as Asheville, North Carolina, and Southwest Virginia often come to see plays and musicals at the community theater, which means more revenues for Johnson City.

“We bring people in overnight. They go to the restaurants, come to the show and stay overnight,” he said. “So not only do we buy and spend money locally with local businesses, but we also provide them with patronage.”

One financially tumultuous season could, however, end all of this, according to Jeffers.

“I don’t think we could suffer too many losses as far as too many shows that don’t produce a profit,” he said. “The past 10 years especially, we’ve stayed very close.”

In order to help stop this from happening, Jeffers encouraged locals to sponsor or donate to the theater, and of course, buy tickets to the shows. Another crucial way to help is volunteering and “coming down and helping on shows and backstage.”

Jeffers said he’d welcome more assistance through resources, labor or capital to help install a new roof at the community theater, as well. He would also like to see support from city commissioners.

“More than anything, write to our city. Write our commissioners. Tell them that you want to see support for the arts, specifically for the community theater. It’s a crown jewel, and we do everything we can to keep it polished and shined, but we need help,” he said.

For more information on the theater, upcoming shows or ways to donate, visit www.jccommunitytheatre.org.

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