The play’s still the thing at N.C. Shakespeare Festival

By Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. On July 30, the N.C. Shakespeare Festival in High Point announced that financial troubles in a tough fundraising environment had forced it to suspend operations and make a big cut in expenses.

NCShakes, which began in February 1977, reduced its staff from 16 full-time and part-time positions to the equivalent of five full-time positions. It cancelled its annual fall production of a Shakespeare play, which this year would have been Macbeth. And it scrubbed its 36th annual production of A Christmas Carol.

But NCShakes’ nonprofit board of trustees had no intention of shutting down the company permanently, says Pedro Silva, an actor who has worked for the company since 1977 and served as managing director since 1983.

“The company never really closed,” he says. “The board made a decision to have the Festival work on this reduced level, with an eye toward renewing the company and restructuring it if at all possible.”

While it won’t be staging A Christmas Carol, NCShakes will present A Christmas Carol Unplugged, a dramatization, on December 20 and 22 at High Point Theater. Instead of paying for tickets, people who attend are being asked to make contributions to help support operations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.

The staff also is working to sell NCShakes’ annual Shakespeare To Go tour, which this year, for 17 weeks from December through April, will visit elementary, middle and high schools throughout the state.

That’s three more weeks than in recent years, when NCShakes visited 60 to 70 schools a year.

NCShakes also launched a campaign to raise $100,000. The effort, known as “Once more into the breach,” a reference to the rallying cry to his troops by Shakespeare’s Henry V, already has raised $80,000.

And it recently received a commitment from the Hayden-Harmen Foundation to give $10,000 if the company’s board can raise $10,000 in new funds from new donors.

Silva says attendance for NCShakes’ annual fall production, which typically has run for three weeks and included a total of 20 to 25 performances, declined 20 percent to 25 percent for evening performances for the general public, and 10 percent to 15 percent for matinees for school groups.

“The Shakespeare Festival has been a really wonderful, active, respected part” of the Piedmont Triad community for 36 years, Silva says. “We have been working to see how we can address the issue of sustainability more effectively, to see how we can bring the Festival back on line by the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2014.”

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