Barter Theatre launching fundraiser to make up budget shortfall

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Aug 24, 2019 at 12:47 AM

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s causing Barter Theatre’s revenue shortfall, but Richard Rose, Barter Theatre’s producing artistic director, has an idea.

“There are two things that we’ve identified as being a problem for the summer,” Rose said. “One, we’re down about 16% on tourists. Tourists account for a very large part of our business, and that 16% is significant because it’s the height of our season.

“The second factor — probably the bigger factor — is “Shrek” just didn’t draw as it would be expected to draw.”

Rose said they just couldn’t get people to come see “Shrek The Musical,” with many people viewing the show as a kids’ show, rather than a family show. The issue of tourism, however, may have been the bigger shock.

“We have not seen (tourism decline) as a trend at all,” Rose said, calling it “a total outlier.”

Another potential cause for the decline in revenue: The 2020 presidential election.

Rose says that, in general, theaters and other performing arts can expect to see about a 9% to 12% decline in revenue during an election season, regardless of who’s running or who ultimately wins. And with the 2020 election cycle kicking off early with an extremely crowded field of 2020 Democrats, that could mean Barter is feeling the effects a bit earlier than it normally would have.

And though that may mean the long-term impact of a lackluster Summer 2019 isn’t as critical, the Abingdon, Virginia, theater still needs to make up the deficit. According to a press release, it were able to cut spending by $250,000, but hope to make up the rest by launching a fundraiser campaign.

“We are fundraising partially because fundraising is part of what supports Barter Theatre, but also because the revenue’s from our summer season were considerably below expectations,” Rose said. “We need to make up for that before we get to the end of the season.”

Barter Theatre is asking for help from the public, by donations or by simply coming to see a show.

“Coming to the theater helps us, so if (people) attend and can donate, that’s the perfect thing,” Rose said.

Unlike most large theaters, Barter, a nonprofit, makes most of its income —64% — from ticket sales, with a majority of the other 36% coming from donations.

“We just want people to recognize and understand that we need their support and we need to make up this shortfall,” Rose said. “We hope they’ll help us out in any way they can.”

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 Press Videos