Evansville theater tries to stay afloat amid pandemic impact

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — On the homepage of its , Evansville’s Civic Theatre wastes no time in explaining its situation.

“After 95 years serving our community, The Civic is in danger of closing its doors permanently,” the message says.

That’s not an exaggeration, officials with the nonprofit said.

In early 2020, Civic Theatre was excited about a packed upcoming season. But the coronavirus pandemic ran roughshod over those plans and left the nonprofit grasping for survival.

Ticket sales and donations are The Civic’s only income sources.

“That’s what we rely on to pay bills and overhead,” said Kevin Roach, Civic Theatre artistic director and its only paid staff member. “We always teeter on breaking even, but we’ve never been in a situation like this where we might have to shut down because the only funds coming in are from donations.”

Civic Theatre does about six productions in a typical year, including at least one at its Fulton Avenue home and others at different sites. Recent plays have included “The Crucible” and “Lord of the Flies.”

One show a year involves a guest director and a mostly teenage cast. Youth outreach is among the Civic Theatre’s goals.

“It’s a chance for them to break out and play at the level of adults,” Roach said.

Rehearsals for a production of The Laramie Project were ongoing in spring 2020, when the pandemic swept in and ground all activity to an abrupt halt.

“We were days from opening,” Roach said.

A virtual version of “The Laramie Project” was streamed online in early December.

The Civic also streamed “ ,” a set of locally done holiday songs and stories, during December. Buying the download for $15 was one way local residents could help keep the Civic Theatre going.

Other ways include straight donations at evvcivic.org. The nonprofit has a fund-raising goal of $135,000; about 15% of that has been raised.

Civic Theatre officials said they’re fully aware of how difficult fundraising is during a pandemic, when so many individuals, families and agencies are in need.

Officials said another way to help Civic Theatre is by liking its Facebook and Instagram pages and sharing content from those, because it promotes greater community awareness.

“So many people in the community don’t know about us or don’t know we’re still open,” said Lauren Singleton, board president. “Just word of mouth right now is wonderful. If they can donate, great, but it’s an awful time for us all. But people just sharing memories of Civic Theatre helps us in a different way.”

Clay Prindle got involved at The Civic in the mid-2000s as stage manager for a show and hasn’t stopped since. He performed on stage in the late 2000s and then started directing its “underground” shows, held at community sites away from Fulton Avenue.

“I absolutely fell in love with the actors, the environment, the overall Civic Theatre,” Prindle said.

His love for The Civic runs so deep that he stayed involved after his paid role as director of education was cut earlier this decade. At the time Prindle and another staffer were let go, the troupe was working on a production of “Urinetown,” a musical.

“It could have been real easy to walk out angry, but I wanted to stick it out,” Prindle said. “We sold out every production we had. The cast and crew came together. We actually had to add a performance.”

Prindle continues to direct The Civic’s annual production involving teens, which, during normal times, happens during these winter months.

The Civic, like community arts organizations across the U.S., has fallen on hard times this year because it can’t sell tickets.

Supporters yearn to return to the stage before live audiences, once the medical community says it is safe.

“It’s the quintessential community theater,” Prindle said. “It’s one where everyone feels welcome. I don’t think I’ve ever met or talked to anyone with a bitter experience with Civic Theatre, unless they were passed over for a role or something … it’s one of those locations in Evansville that should be around for a lot longer.”

Roach agreed. “We are all going to fight to keep this open.”

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