12/21/2011 10:12 am ET

75-Year-Old Local Theater Takes One-Year Hiatus After 'Falling On Hard Times'

This is the eighth in an occasional series examining the recession's impact on culture, The Recessionary Arts. Read more from the series here.

By Adam W. McCoy

Despite murmurs in the community that the organization is bankrupt, one former Shorewood Players board member says the theater group is simply reorganizing after "falling on hard times" due to the recession.

The non-profit local theater organization, the longest standing organization of its kind in the greater-Milwaukee area with nearly 80 years of history, depends largely on donations and ticket and advertising sales for its revenue. But with donations dipping and shrinking attendance for the last few performances, the group was forced to take a one-year hiatus, said Richard Champion, a former board member.

"The Shorewood Players need to sell tickets and ad sales to raise money to do a performance," he said. "The last two shows, as good as they were, ended up losing a lot of money."

Known for tackling Broadway shows, including "Anything Goes," "The Music Man," "South Pacific," "Grease," "Chicago" and "Cabaret," the group had been staging two to four shows per year, according to its website. But the Players last hit the stage for a production of "Annie" in mid-June 2010.

The Players wouldn't elaborate on details surrounding their financial misfortune, when Patch contacted current board members for comment.

However, according to online non-profit records filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the group has lost money in recent years.

In 2007, for example, the Players took in more than $65,000 while spending about $43,000 -- and coming in nearly $22,000 in the black, records show.

However, in 2009, the latest year for which figures could be found, the Players had revenue of about $49,600 — and reported a $4,200 deficit. The group ended 2009 with about $3,700 in the bank.

The group also has seen donations wane -- receiving $15,000 in donations in 2008, but only about $5,000 total over the next two years. Other revenue has hovered around $40,000 to $50,000, however.

Champion says the cost of producing a play is higher than most realize.

"When you do a production, for example, like the 'Music Man,' the Shorewood Players has to buy the rights ... pay a director, music director, the orchestra and the stage director," he said.

When seeking donations, the Players ask for as much as $5,000 for a producer, $2,500 to $4,990 for a director, and $1,000 to $2,499 for a lead actor or actress.

But, the group is looking ahead, and has a review scheduled for January and a production of "Footloose" scheduled for June, says the group's artistic director, Terry Grazer.

Champion said the Players have spent the past year gathering funds for its next production by doing things like holding car washes, hitting the sidewalks and caroling for dollars during Shorewood’s "Stop, Shop and Restore" event a couple weeks ago, and manning a concession stand at Miller Park.

For the January show, the Players are teaming up with Champion's new theater venture, Cream City Theater Inc., for a review called "Memories, Blast From the Past" -- a look back at the Players' productions over the last few years.

With Cream City, Champion say he hopes to work more with inner-city companies to get children involved in theater. Five members of the Shorewood Players now fill the Cream City Theater board, though Champion said those members have joined several other groups in the past.

Grazer, who also serves as the artistic director for Cream City, says the show will incorporate a piano and some former Players actors who will perform music from the Players' previous productions as well as some new material.

The show runs Jan. 13 through Jan. 15, with the first two shows at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday show at 2 p.m., in the Shorewood High School Black Box Theater. Seating will be limited to 100 and tickets run for $25, $20 for seniors and students, Grazer said.

Champion said the group hopes the review will produce enough funds to get the Players back on track and back in the limelight in Shorewood.

This article originally appeared on Patch.