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The Making of a Springfield Theatre Performance, Part II: Community Involvement is a Necessity for Low Cost Performance

When spectators go out to the theatre, they drink in the sights and sounds on the stage. But behind every successful production is a smart budgeter.  As the second part in a two-part series on what it takes to put on a theatre production in Springfield, KSMU’s Matthew Barnes has this report on the costs that go into local theatre.

[Nats: Footsteps behind stage]

Built in 1908 by the Masons for their private rituals, the Vandivort Center Theatre is the oldest theater space in Springfield.

Taken over by Lou Schaeffer in 1995, the theater became the Springfield Contemporary Theatre as we know it today. With few renovations to the original set up, the space now functions as a non-profit theatre. Lou Schaeffer is its executive director.

“It’s the type of community theatre you would see in most cities across the country. We try to be as close to the community as possible with actors and with the production staff so we can continue to keep our bottom line as low as possible. We have tried to basically run the theater with community and area actors, which are volunteer.” says Schaeffer.

Schaeffer says the theater’s general expenses cost about $6,000 per month, and licensing for bigger plays--like the musical “Evita,” which it’s getting ready to premiere-- costs about $3,000. Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s non-profit status is able to keep ticket prices down by donations made by the community.

“We tell contributors, that basically they’re helping to underwrite the cost of producing plays and musicals on stage. Otherwise, if we were having to break even by selling tickets to the public, our tickets would have to be up more in the realm of $35, $45, $50 dollars per ticket if we were not receiving underwriting,” says Schaeffer.

Community involvement is at the core of the operations at the theater. A founding member of Springfield Theatre Alliance, Schaeffer says even other theaters give each other a hand when possible.

“That is one reason we formed the theatre alliance is to be able to support each other. We will help each other out if there are any props or scenery or costumes that one organization has that the other one can borrow,” says Schaeffer.

And after owning the theatre for 17 years, props and scenery are things that Schaeffer has a lot of.

“We’re very resourceful. We do not build things and throw them out, [or] destroy them after the show. We recycle. We recycle all the time,” says Schaeffer.

[Nats walking backstage noise]

Walking through the backstage area of the theater, Schaeffer points out the many set pieces saved over the years. Some of these will be used again for the upcoming performance of “Evita” later this month.

“And these are the wall units that make up a room: Door units, flat wall units, window units. And when you look at them now they look like paperback books slid into a book case but they’re all ten feet and twelve feet tall,” says Schaeffer.

Schaeffer is not the only person who uses ingenuity around here to save a few pennies:  the director and cast are right there along with him doing their parts.

Gary Lyons is the director of Evita.

“You have to be really creative with coming up with a concept for a musical that is normally done in a very large format and trying to scale it down to a very small scale,” said Lyons.

Lyons said much of Evita’s budget is going toward costumes.

 Though the cast will be small, Lyons says every person involved enjoys performing on behalf of the community.

“Sure we do, I think this cast so far has been terrific in what their output has been. Everyone usually takes it to heart and really does the best they can,” says Lyons.

For KSMU News, I’m Matthew Barnes.