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Discovering What My Small Business Actually Does - The Contemporary Theater Company

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.

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