How Did Actors Theatre Emerge From the Brink and Net a Shubert Foundation Grant in the Process?

After a recent "pause" in operations due to financial difficulties and structural reorganization, the Actors Theatre of Phoenix announced they were back in business thanks to a successful 2013 fundraising drive and a critical $30,000 grant from the Shubert Foundation.

This, of course, is good news, but it's worth taking a closer look at the back story. Here's what we know: In February, 2013, the theatre announced on their Facebook page that they were taking a "pause" due to "significant financial challenges over the past few years." Compounding matters, the theatre discovered it would not receive two large gifts they had been expecting. However, rather than close, they decided to step back, because  in their words  "we need to change the way we operate our business."

For example, the theatre proceeded to reinvent their funding model to include more diverse revenue streams. Ideas included:

  • Finding new performance spaces allowing them to generate additional revenue through concessions.
  • Higher box office service fees.
  • Renting out space for private events. 

Their plan was also supplemented by a rigorous fundraising drive beginning with their signature annual event, "Gourmetheatre," which was held in April. And they kept the momentum going. They received $54,000 from more than 200 donors in June alone and finished the year out with an expanded donor base of close to 1,400 individuals. 

Enter the Shubert Foundation, which not only liked what the theatre was doing, but backed up its approval with a $30,000 grant that is to be used by the theatre for general operations. This isn't the first time the foundation gave to Actors Theater; in fact, they have been supporting the group since 2001. That said, it's safe to say the foundation was probably leery to whip out the check book unless the theatre made some hard choices. Producing Artistic Director Matthew Weiner admitted as much, noting that the theatre need to engage in "strategic rebuilding" to remain in existence and secure outside funding.

Ultimately, Actor Theatre's example is an encouraging one for nonprofit theater groups facing severe financial difficulties. The theater didn't close its doors; it simply took a breather. It reexamined its funding model with an eye toward greater diversity in the area of revenue generation. It greatly expanded its donor base through old-fashioned fundraising. And it was incredibly transparent with the public, its supporters, and funding organizations throughout the entire process.

For more information on the Shubert Foundation, check out IP's Grant Finder guide on the foundation here.