After a scramble to restructure, a much-hyped fundraising blitz and ongoing community outcry to save the theater, Venture Theatre has seemingly rebounded from the brink of financial disaster. For now.
“We are currently at $90,000 in fundraising and are so humbled by the community’s outpouring of support,” Venture board president Brooke Buchanan told The Billings Outpost this week. “We have made a huge step in the right direction today as we are paying the IRS.” According to a news release on Tuesday, that money owed to the Internal Revenue Service has now been paid.
By the end of last month, $30,000 was raised in an effort to temper a shortfall of $125,000 that Venture faced at the beginning of 2013. With the sudden termination of then-Artistic Director Robert Brian Wood the last week of 2012, Venture board members were poised to tackle the financial difficulties head on.
Susan Scariano has since been appointed interim director to lead the staff and serve as a liaison to the board as the theater moves forward.
“She is fabulous and has been involved in Venture Theatre for a long time,” Ms. Buchanan said of Ms. Scariano, “which is nice because she knows everyone and knows how the theater works.”
Ms. Scariano was out of town at press time this week and unavailable for comment.
In addition, The Venture Theatre board of directors recently announced collaboration with Rimrock Opera Company in an effort to further mitigate financial difficulties. The alliance will result in the development of a performing arts center within the current location of Venture Theatre on Montana Avenue.
According to a recent statement provided to the Outpost, “both entities will continue their established programs, such as Venture’s Youth Conservatory, Venture Into Schools, and Venture’s trademark musicals and plays. Rimrock Opera will continue its main stage opera productions, Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids (ROCK) youth program, Opera 101, and its other educational outreach endeavors.”
Lucinda Butler, president of the Rimrock Opera Board, stated, “Rimrock Opera is making a commitment to ensure existing programs continue for both organizations. Our Board looks forward to the exciting new partnership and collaboration of two wonderful groups.”
Buchanan said the Venture Theatre board will proceed in a fiscally responsible manner.
“The collaboration is beneficial for both organizations going forward, but Venture Theatre still needs to pay off its existing debt. We have currently raised $68,200 toward our final goal. The collaboration with Rimrock Opera is an important first step in Venture Theatre’s development of a responsible business plan to assure the Billings Community that their support is leading to a sustainable performing arts center.”
Pleas from the community continue to pour in. Shelly Harris wrote to Venture board members recently on behalf of her daughter Kennedee, who became an aspiring performer at the age of 4.
“She danced and sang ‘Cats’ tunes for the next couple years and had a cat suit she wore to perform in,” Ms. Harris stated. “It was the cutest thing ever. When we found out there was a theater in Billings that she could be involved in, she was there to audition for her first show the beginning of her third grade year. To see how she blossomed from a shy little girl in her first show to a confident and determined little girl after just a few shows was amazing. She has been in so many shows over the years, and she is now a senior in high school.”
Ms. Harris says she hopes the board is able to save the theater.
“The thought that other children in our community will not have the same opportunity to build their confidence and follow their passion for music and theatre is a tragic thought,” she stated.
Lainey Patterson is another concerned community member who credits Venture’s Youth Conservatory as being a very important part of her life.
“I was born and raised with this theatre,” she stated in an impassioned letter to the board, “and I’m not going to let our community give up on it.”
Venture Theatre continues to plead for donations.
Please mail contributions to: Venture Theatre Campaign Fund, c/o First Interstate Bank, 401 North 31st. Billings, MT 59101.
More information on the fundraising events can be found at the Venture Theatre website, www.venturetheatre.org, or by calling 591-9535.