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Facing Financial Uncertainty, Actor's Theatre Of Charlotte Sends A Plea For Donations

Nick de la Canal
Chip Decker, executive director of Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, outside the theatre's new home at Queens University.

For 31 years, Actor's Theatre of Charlotte has been staging award-winning contemporary shows for adults. But this week, the local theatre company sent a dire email to patrons saying their cash reserves have run out, and they "may not be able to continue."

It comes the same week as Opera Carolina announced it was laying off its executive director amid budget cuts, citing a "harsh economic climate for the arts," and its closure could deal a serious blow to Charlotte's theatre community, which already lost Charlotte Repertory Theatre in 2005 and Carolina Actors Studio Theatre in 2014.

In an interview with WFAE, Actor's Theatre's executive director, Chip Decker, said his group's current financial uncertainty is due to a series of crises the group has had to endure over the past few years. He spoke with WFAE's Nick de la Canal.

Nick de la Canal: I want to begin by asking for some brief history about Actor's Theatre. How did it get started and why?

Chip Decker: Sure. It started back in 1989 by Dan Shoemaker and Janet Isenhardt. And they just had a vision of an adult contemporary theater that would act as a professional company and pay its actors. And that's pretty much been the mantra for 31 seasons: Do the best local work, do new works and treat the actors and everyone that works for the company as professionals.

De la Canal: So for the past 31 years, Actor's Theatre has won numerous awards. I mean, you guys have showcased some really incredible local talent. 

Decker: Thank you. 

De la Canal: You've gotten great reviews. So I think people want to know why now does the theater's future appear to be in peril?

Decker: So we had a beautiful spot. We used to be the resident theatre company at Spirit Square back many years ago. And then from there, we secured our own building on a wonderful piece of property on Stonewall Street, and we were there for nearly 14 seasons. And then in 2016, the property was sold and became apartment condos -- like almost every other avenue in Charlotte -- and we found a location we liked over in the Plaza Midwood area. We put a lot of time, effort, energy, expense into making that happen -- and then at the last minute, the developer backed out. So we were left high and dry. 

We tried to find another location. We found a cool one on Freedom Drive. And through a series of unfortunate events there, as well, we were not able to get that developed the way we needed it for the theater. So we traveled around the city quite a bit. And we performed at the Charlotte Ballet, at the Mint Museum. We performed in churches. And then finally here at Queens. 

What happened during that time, Nick, is that reserve, that cash reserve that we built up? Unfortunately, that's what we used to cover those expenses during that transitional period. So we're just at a point where we don't have our reserve to lean on.

De la Canal: Does any of this have anything to do with the cuts that the Arts and Science Council has been making since voters didn't pass the sales tax referendum that would have supplied a lot of funding towards local arts groups like Actor's Theatre?

Decker: It doesn't. Not at all, not directly at all. They're one of many funders that we have. This is just strictly a matter of there's a dry period. And we've always had water in the well. But unfortunately, again, like I said, due to those moves, the well's dry.

De la Canal: May I ask, what the possibility of closing, how that makes you feel personally?

Decker: It's disappointing because we've been here 31 seasons and I've been trying so hard to make an impact in the city and a change for the better. I think the more theater and the more arts this town could have, the better off we'd be. And so, I am disappointed. I would hate for the company to fold for a number of reasons -- but mostly for the void that it will leave.

De la Canal: You've said that the theater needs to fundraise $100-150,000 in order to stage another season. If you do end up meeting that goal and surviving for another year, what then? Would you guys have to keep fundraising year after year or find some other way to continue to survive?

Decker: That is our complete wish list, to refill, to the well back up, basically. The majority of it would go back into the reserve fund. A very small portion of it would be used to tide us over for the remainder of the season.

De la Canal: OK, so if you were able to raise that amount of money, you're saying that you would be good. I mean, are you optimistic for the future?

Decker: I'm very optimistic. I'm overly optimistic. That's why I've been in Charlotte for 30 years. We sent out to some 15,000-plus folks that have known Actor's Theatre it over the years. And if I get $10 from every one of those, we'll be set. I'm very confident we will be back. But it's going to take the help of the folks of Charlotte and the surrounding areas.