Sounds of music proves too costly for Prince George’s teen theater group -- Gazette.Net


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Faced with financial constraints, the Prince George’s Summer Teen Theatre Program has a new plan to spotlight its work and keep the curtain from falling on the group.

Previously, the Beltsville-based nonprofit theater group, formed in 1967, would do one musical each year, but it’s more expensive to produce a musical than a play.

For a musical, the group must hire a choreographer and create elaborate costumes and sets, said Christine Pressau, president of the theater group.

The group usually needs around $10,000 to put on a musical, but increased fees for licensing music and rising costs for renting space has pushed that figure up to around $15,000, said Gloria Rayburn, the group’s treasurer. A play can cost around $2,000, Rayburn said.

“A musical, at the moment, is out of the question,” said Rick Bergmann, a program board member.

Fundraising drives, donations and ticket sales, along with student participation fees — usually around $100 — are the main sources of revenue for the program, said Pressau of Beltsville. All three have taken a hit during the recession, she said.

The nonprofit group’s cash reserve was around $14,000 in 2008 and since has dropped to around $2,000 this year, Rayburn said.

“We are struggling significantly,” said Rayburn, a Beltsville resident. “I’m sad in that I don’t see us having enough to do a new musical in the near future.”

As a result, the theater program has started putting on multiple, less-expensive plays and performing out of Bowie’s Charis Center for the Arts to cut costs.

The program previously held performances at other sites, typically high schools, but schools can charge thousands of dollars to use their space, Rayburn said. The Charis Center asks for 20 percent of the ticket sales at the program’s performances, said Emma Hadley, founder of the center.

The increase in performances also could bring in additional revenue through ticket sales, Bergmann said.

The shift in focus for the group began last year, when the organization stopped putting on musicals and instead put on two plays, Bergmann said.

The theater program held open auditions Jan. 13 and Jan. 15 for Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” which depicts scenes from small-town America. The program accepts anyone ages 13 to 21; they do not have to be Prince George’s County residents.

“Our Town,” which will open on April 12, will rely on a more simplified set design than past musicals staged by the group, said Taylor Daniels, who auditioned for the play Jan. 13 and was briefed on the vision for the performance.

“It’s pantomime,” said the 14-year-old from Cheverly. “You’re not going to be using props, which may be a little different.”

Like last year, the program aims to do two plays this year. After “Our Town,” there will be another in July or August. PGSTT plans to choose the second play over the next few weeks, said Bergmann, a Laurel resident.

Program veteran Hope Nicholson, 12, said she misses the musicals.

“I can do either of them [plays or musicals]. They give me something to do,” said the Beltsville resident, who has been involved in the theater program since June 2011. “I personally love musicals … I love singing and dancing.”

Organization officials hope the shift from musicals is a temporary measure. They will reassess the organization’s finances over the next few years to see if they can afford to mix in a musical.

“Maybe we can pile up a little bit of revenue so we can go back to musicals,” said “Our Town” co-director and Beltsville resident Jacob Rayburn, who is Gloria Rayburn’s son. “We’ve kind of been doing it step-by-step. We finish a show, take a breather and then say, ‘What’s next?’”

amccombs@gazette.net