The Yorkville Players, which has offered locally produced theater and musicals to audiences for more than 20 years, is questioning whether it has the financial and volunteer support to move forward.
Leaders with the nonprofit, all-volunteer theater group, which formed about 22 years ago, said it has in recent years faced challenges including a dwindling group of volunteers and shrinking financial support.
The group hosted a meeting at McCelvey Center last week to seek community and financial support in a broad range of capacities. About 35 people showed up, many of them already invested in the group in some way.
Yorkville Players board member Barbara Johnson, who has directed six of the Players’ past nine shows, said the board will meet Oct. 14 to consider the response and decide where to go from here.
“We’re just at this interesting kind of crossroads,” said Johnson, who recently moved from York to McAdenville, N.C., and this spring directed her last Players’ production, “Peter Pan.”
Johnson, who has a full-time job and two children, ages 2 and 6, said she plans to remain on the board, but can no longer direct shows, so new leadership in that area is crucial.
Johnson, who said she will continue to handle marketing and publicity for the group, said many of the Players’ core volunteers also have moved away, and the volunteer participation has dwindled.
Jill Neff, president of the board, said the group needs volunteers to direct and produce shows, raise money, make costumes and sets, run the sound and lighting systems and fill many other roles. Neff said it also needs help with fundraising — including sponsorships or financial support from businesses — and greater audience participation.
“Basically, we need everything,” said Neff. She said the board had dwindled to four volunteers who were doing all the work. After “Peter Pan,” she said, the group picked up three more board members.
“If there’s only a handful of people, it’s not a viable situation to keep going,” Neff said. “That’s kind of where we are right now. And we need financial support, because in the bank we have probably enough money to do one play.”
Neff, who has handled the costumes, said she can no longer take on the role by herself. “It’s just overwhelming,” she said. “Basically I did it myself for every show. That’s a lot of time.”
Johnson said the group has in recent years trended toward family-oriented shows with a large cast of children, like “Peter Pan,” because they attract larger audiences. She said attendance has been poor at shows with all-adult casts.
“Peter Pan” attracted an audience of about 100 people for each of four shows in April, she said. “But we’ve had other shows in the past where there has been like 15 people in the audience,” she said.
Johnson said another challenge has been that the group doesn’t own its theater space. It has rented space at McCelvey, but the theater was damaged due to a roof leak earlier this year, which affected the performance schedule.
Johnson, who has been involved with the group for about six years, said those who attended last week’s meeting were asked to fill out volunteer interest surveys. “We need to make sure there’s really a hope and a desire for this in the community,” she said.
Neff said the board will consider the response. She said the board had discussed producing a musical in the spring with the hope that it would generate more volunteer interest.
She said a typical show costs $2,000 to $3,000 to produce, including buying the rights to the show, purchasing scripts and buying, renting or borrowing items for the costumes and set, as well as renting the theater at McCelvey.
“We have been very frugal,” she said. “We pick plays that don’t have a lot of set so we don’t have to spend a lot.” They also have rented or borrowed many items for the costumes, she said.
A musical production, Neff said, would probably cost more than $5,000 because of the added expense of choreography, musical direction and a band or other musical accompaniment.
She said the group’s main source of revenue to cover costs is ticket sales. “A lot of times, we lose money if we don’t have enough audience,” Neff said. “The last couple times, we’ve about broken even.”
The Players do not charge any participation fees, Johnson said, and actors do not have to pay for their own costumes, as they do with some other community theater groups.
“We don’t want somebody to not participate because they can’t pay for it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she doesn’t want to see the group die because of the valuable experience children and youth gain from their involvement.
“We’ve had people come from quite some distance to be in these plays,” Johnson said. “We’ve had people come all the way from Salisbury, N.C. What a resource these plays are for kids in these areas. They couldn’t possibly drive to Charlotte to be in a play.”
Neff agreed that the group has great community value.
“I hate to see it die off on my shift,” she said. “But that’s kind of where it’s going. Even coming to the plays, people aren’t supporting it that much. Especially if we did an adult play, we have not had a lot of support.”