Citing the theatre's long-standing debt of $343,000 and the inability to come up with the funds to eliminate it, Georgia Shakespeare has laid off its remaining staff of nine and canceled its holiday production of A Holiday Panto. It had previously canceled its October production of Henry V due to lack of funds.
The theatre, which was founded in 1986 by Lane Anderson, Robert Watson and Richard Garner as a summer festival, set a fundraising goal of $750,000 to fund the show as well as help retire its debt, replenish operating funds and build a small reserve. A high-profile campaign called "Save Georgia Shakespeare" raised more than $500,000 in 2011.
During its season this past summer, Georgia Shakespeare raised more than $200,000 (the first phase of a $1 million capital campaign) to pay for a renovation of the picnic grounds and new sound equipment at its home at Oglethorpe University's Conant Performing Arts Center.
"I said the worst thing that can happen is we just eliminate the debt and start at zero — we needed to get healthy," co-founder and producing artistic director Richard Garner told American Theatre Magazine. "We had several conversations, lot of moral support but debt is something that people don't like to fund. For that $750,000, a lot of people said, 'If you get close to it, come to me and I will help you finish the campaign.' But no one gave a lead gift."
Georgia is currently ranked 50th in the country on its per capita spending for the arts. The Georgia Council for the Arts gave out $4.5 million in grants statewide in 2002. For fiscal year 2015, that number was $750,000. "Let this be a message to everybody: If you have a theatre company you love, buy tickets to see their show," Garner told American Theatre Magazine. "Support them."
Patrons who have previously purchased tickets to Panto should visit gashakespeare.org for further information.