Bainbridge Little Theatre sees shrinking finances, audience
Published 4:45 pm Friday, October 23, 2015
Bainbridge has been blessed with a community theater group for 42 years, and during that time Bainbridge Little Theatre has provided a valuable cultural experience for performers and theatergoers alike.
First conceived in 1974, when Bainbridge College had been open a little more than a year, three faculty members (Dr. Eunice Knight, Dr. Michael Gast and Mrs. Dottie Randall) organized and presented the first show, “Barefoot in the Park.”
The college agreed to sponsor the group until it could stand on its own feet. Since there was no theater building, the group performed in schools and other locations. After Max Langston donated the former Pepsi building to the theater, Dr. Ed Mobley, then president of Bainbridge College, chaired a small group called “Friends of the Theater” to sell seats at $300 each.
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Many community leaders jumped on board and signed on as patrons in order to support the organization and make it go.
The organizers soon realized a need to educate and train young people in theater, as there were no classes offered in the public schools or in the college. Class Act workshops were organized to meet in the summer and after school. Those productions put on by the youth continue today to attract several young aspiring actors who have or are going on to promote theater now.
Allyson Walker Whittaker was one of those, as was Christina Greene and Austin Rowe. Andrew Cooksey grew up in the theater watching his mother Ida perform, direct and generally manage productions. A fire was lit in their bellies. They have brought an enthusiastic youth to the productions, and all have gone on to serve BLT in one way or another.
But where are the new patrons? Those are the backbone members whose donations help support the costs of four productions a year.
These include paying for the rights to produce each show, costuming, advertising, props, set construction and all the many hidden costs that go with maintaining a theater.
According to current board members, Martha Mobley and Mike Inlow, many of those first supporters have aged, died or moved away, and the theater has not kept pace in attracting new life-blood. “The paying patronage has shrunk, and as of yet, very few of the next generation of community leaders have stepped up,” said Mobley.
The audiences have also shrunk, indicating there are fewer persons being brought up with an awareness or appreciation of the benefits of theater.
Inlow pointed out there are still no theater appreciation classes being taught in the middle and high levels of the Decatur County public schools. Grace Christian has just begun to offer theater appreciation classes under the tutelage of Christina Greene. Likewise, there is no on-going theater program being offered at the college. Mobley points out that theater isn’t for every one, but that the training received helps bring out even the most shy, introverted person. Stage experience helps overcome a fear of public speaking, which is an important asset for personal success.
Current co-president Inlow, said, “If people want the theater to survive, we need to build up patron memberships, especially among the younger community leaders, and encourage our older members to remember the theater in their wills when setting up trust funds.”
He also points out the theater and its gardens are available for rent, at very reasonable rates, as a venue for recitals, performances, weddings and other social events.
Now in it’s 42nd year, BLT is also seeking corporate sponsorship for its productions. The 42nd season is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Ed Mobley, who with his wife Martha, contributed so much to the formation and continuation of the BLT. “I don’t want to look up one day and see it all gone,” says Martha, adding, “If the public wants to see it continue, they need to step up and support it now.”
To learn more about the theater, its history and upcoming productions, visit the website www.bainbridgelittletheatre.com. It also has information on how to become a patron at several levels of participation.