Guest author Christopher J. Simpson is a recent graduate of Princeton University and the Artistic Director of Rhode Island’s Contemporary Theater Company. This past Saturday, the company hosted it’s 9th “24 Hour Play Festival,” a festival in which a series of plays are conceived, written, rehearsed, and performed — all in under 24 hours.
I founded the 501©3 Contemporary Theater Company in 2005, while I was still in college. We were a tiny organization dedicated to giving a group of artists the opportunity to produce theater in our small town. Now, we are a dynamic player in our community’s business landscape.
“We were a tiny organization dedicated to giving a group of artists the opportunity to produce theater in our small town. Now, we are a dynamic player in our community’s business landscape.”
This transformation has been essential for my organization, and ironically, has only been possible because we started without any intention to ever grow in the ways that we have.
As a tiny startup with a single-minded perspective and a fragile business model — spend all the money to prepare a show; hope attendance covers the costs — the only way to raise capital was approach local businesses and sell my vision.
This required developing a vision beyond “do some plays,” and forced me to devise means to create value for our community. As a non-profit, I am unable to accept an investment and return a dividend at the end of the run, so any investment or contribution will be made with the anticipation of intangible returns.
As such, our attention began to shift towards ways in which we can draw tourists to our community, drive shoppers downtown, and provide a lift to traditionally slow times of commerce.
To attain these goals, our company began to explore other ways of producing theater. We performed shows as dinner theater in a small café during March, a historically difficult month for local eateries. We anchored an arts and entertainment festival downtown to bring beach tourists slightly inland to our local businesses. We even created a free bi-weekly variety show at a local coffee shop to draw in additional customers on Sunday evenings, sacrificing our own ticket revenue to show our dedication to a sponsor.
This creates a feeling of authentic partnership that encourages our sponsors and donors to support our more artistic endeavors in their turn, and we’ve found a significant increase in the attendance at the rest of our programming since the inception of these initiatives.
By focusing on our role as a member of a local economy, we have proved our value to an entire region, yielding a far greater response for our core mission than we had seen before. We have become a value-generating resource for our community, ensuring our continued success.