10408514_10152168185682879_507780069751076753_nThe PopCulteer
July 11, 2014

Somewhat lost in the short week between the end of FestivALL and the Fourth of July was the news that Kanawha Players has been saved. An anonymous “White Knight” stepped forward with a generous $7,000 donation to honor the memory of Kanawha Players past Secretary Betsy Stewart and her husband Studs Stewart.

If you recall, KP needed seven grand to get back to a level playing field. The nation’s second-oldest community theater group had been pummeled by skyrocketing utility costs during a harsh winter, coupled with insane water and sewer rates which came about as a result of the mandated flushing after January’s Freedom Industries MCHM spill. They basically needed seven thousand bucks just to continue into July.

KP’s president, Ginger Basham, wrote a very frank, honest assessment of what all this means, and I am printing that, unedited, at the bottom of this post.

This donation gives them a leg up so that they can start functioning again. More than three thousand dollars was raised independently of this, so they also have enough money to start running shows and creating some cash flow.

44485787AKP is not out of the woods yet. There are some lingering accounting issues that pre-date the current administration. Those are serious enough to prevent KP from seeking out some avenues to much-needed grant money. The building still needs a lot of work, particularly on the heating and cooling system and the elevator. Charleston’s mayor went from being a KP supporter to publicly expressing a desire to see their building condemned after what is now known as “The Abner Debacle.” So they have no allies in city government.

And that’s why KP still needs community support. They need volunteers. They need business advisers. They need actors and directors and musicans. Most of all, they need patrons. Kanawha Players needs to have people pay to attend their shows.

Their most recent full-scale production was “Extremities.” It was a well-thought-out, provocative evening of theater, with a great cast and hardly any audience. It takes a lot of money to mount a production of this sort, and they have to break even. I know that there are people in Charleston who crave intelligent theater. The challenge is finding a way to pry those people loose from Netflix long enough to get them to leave the house and attend a live theater event. “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards” will still be there when you get home.

This is a problem that extends beyond Kanawha Players. Just last night I saw an incredible production of Lisa D’Amour’s play, “Detroit.” The play was one of the best things I’ve seen in some time, but the audience was sparse. I’ve heard that the live productions put on by CLOG and CYAC during FestivALL suffered a bit from the intense competition from other events.

Just as Charleston has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to art and music, we also have a large, talented pool of theatre people–actors, dancers, directors, set designers–we need to cultivate a more dedicated and committed audience for their efforts.

I don’t know how we can do that. Lowering ticket prices is not really an option. School budgets for cultural activities have been slashed to the bone, so it’s harder to expose new audiences to the thrill of live theater through school performances. You can’t really blame “the media” because both The Gazz and Kennie Bass at WCHS TV have gone above and beyond in trying to get the word out for community theater productions.

I think that building up theater in Charleston is going to be more like losing weight. We’re going to have to drag our asses out and do it ourselves. It’s not enough to sit idly by and bemoan the loss of another artistic group. We (meaning the citizens of Kanawha County) need to get out and at least attend shows.

People complain that there’s nothing to do in town because they don’t want to be bothered doing anything. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t go out, there won’t be anything left to go out to.

Tonight, Bela Lugosi at KP

Here’s a chance to have some fun and throw a few bucks KP’s way…


The Text of Kanawha Players Announcement

Kanawha Players Theater has just received a very generous donation of $7,000. This donation was made by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous. They would however like to honor the memory of Kanawha Players past Secretary Betsy Stewart and her husband Studs Stewart.

This donation combined with money raised during the save KP event brings our total funds raised to $10,239.26!

This money will be used to pay off utilities debt and mortgage accrued during the water crisis and harsh winter. It also gives us the ability to get our elevator inspected and running again as well as the boost we needed to put on a show and raise more money.

Much has been asked lately about why will KP not be in the same shape next month or two months. While the answers were readily available via FB and our open meetings and events. Many have missed this very important information. This is one of the faults of using social media. It is both a gift and a curse. So I will state again here our situation and I will go into our plans for the future.

The water crisis hit us hard. We like everyone else could only follow the directions of the water company concerning flushing. We were in rehearsals for Extremities and very much had a need for our water to be safe to use. So when the water company said keep flushing we followed there directions hoping it would help. Instead we flushed repeatedly per their instruction to no avail. All we did was run our water bill up. Our water remained slimy and foamy and not safe to touch. The water bill of course directly effects your sewer bill and raised it as well. On top of that we now had to buy bottled water for our volunteers. No water meant rentals were canceled and money was lost.

Our second factor was the harsh winter storms we had. Events and rentals were canceled due to ice and snow.

Our October shows typically raise enough money to pull us through the high winter heating bills. However the water situation and loss of rentals ate our savings very quickly.

We are fortunate that the water and sewer companies are still working with us to attempt to make some adjustments to our bills. Businesses are not typically granted payment plans. Due to the special circumstances some leeway was given but the impact on our finances was huge.

To summarize this was a unique situation with the water crisis and bad winter. We were on decent footing and growing when a circumstance beyond our control hit us hard.

We have no intention of asking for people to save us every other month. Our integrity and standards are far higher than that. We have more respect for our supporters than to behave in such a manner.

Kanawha Players board of directors made the tough decision to ask for help only after much debate. Our decision was not made lightly and not without planning for our future. We felt the community deserved to know what was happening to our organization due to these outside factors. We wanted the community to have the chance to speak and be heard and have a say in our decisions. Which is why we went public.

While few showed up to our meetings or reached out to us with their opinions. The recent discussion on Tri-State Theatre Talk has opened up the flood gates. While we are reading everything and taking into account your opinions and advice. We are purposely keeping our interactions in the discussion light. While social media is a powerful tool it has major drawbacks when it comes to expressing ones self. The loss of inflection to ones words causes misunderstandings to run rampant and feelings to run high. I hope everyone understands why we are not more actively participating in the conversation. We want to represent ourselves and organization as true to our word and intent as possible. We are reaching out to many of you and ask that you all feel free to reach out to us as well.

We invite you to attend our July 1st board meeting. At 7:30 we will open the floor to anyone wishing to speak or ask questions. Other ways to reach out include our phone number (304)343-7529 and we may be emailed at kanawhaplayers@yahoo.com.

As for our future. Due to the generous donations we have received we live to fight another day. We are however in very deep concerning our building. Meaning to get rid of the building does not solve our problems or mean KP would go on. At this point selling everything we own and praying we have enough money to rent space to perform and rehearse is not a viable solution. No matter how much you wish KP is not just an organization. It is a business. Businesses need money and support or they close. Even with our current finances KP would not last long without our building. I will gladly go into this further in person or by phone. My Treasurer and head of Development Cynthia Hall is also happy to answer your questions.

Our plans to survive the future are very much the course we have been traveling. I will ask Cynthia Hall to make a statement concerning our business plan soon, as I am not as fluent as she in these matters.

What I can say is our current board is excellent at fundraising. We rent our facility out, plan to keep performing shows that draw large audiences in particularly right before winter. Local comedians that performed during our fundraisers have reached out and want to do a show here every month. Big thank you to Lee Hale and Patrick Felton for your help! We have partnered with the East End McDonalds. They will allow us to do a fundraiser every month during the summer. We are discussing partnering with Down Home Decadence a group that shadow casts films such as Rocky Horror Picture show to pull in revenue on non show months.We are learning to write grants and make connections in the community to those that can help us. We are growing all the time. We just had a big setback that we had to recover from.

While many think it is taboo to say this out loud. I believe keeping it quiet has caused more harm than good. We have a big problem we have been working furiously to solve. We have had an issue with a grant from the cultural center. This issue has made us ineligible for funding from them. This greatly impacts our organization.

In 2009 KP was awarded money from the Cultural Facilities Grant. This apparently was during much turmoil at KP. I can not speak on what the problems were. I was not a part of the organization yet.

For whatever reason proper records and reporting were not followed. We therefore have an outstanding amount due to the cultural center in the amount of $96,063.76.

What that means is work was done money was spent but receipts were not turned in per the reporting required for the grant. It also means we are not eligible for grants through the cultural center.

Many rumors surround this grant and issue. As far as we can see no wrong doing occurred on anyone’s part. Other than letting the ball drop on reporting. Money was spent properly we just do not have the means to prove it yet.

We only recently were able to obtain a copy of this grant so we could ravage our records for receipts and try to right this situation. We are making advancements in straitening this fiasco out. But work is slow and steady. To figure out how to satisfy these grant requirement and right this situation would have a huge impact on KP. It would make us eligible again for funding and open many doors for us. This is one of our major projects to help our survival. If you have any information that might be useful concerning this grant please contact us.

While the looming grant money is scary it is a situation we can fix and are tackling it head on. The cultural center is not demanding money from us at this time. What they do ask is we get this information properly reported so this grant can be closed and we will be able to receive money via the cultural center again.

Kanawha Players is rebuilding itself from the ground up and succeeding one step at a time.

During the times previous boards disbanded records were lost, reputations damaged and feelings hurt.

We are working to piece everything together but it is a tedious task. We are also working to rebuild relationships. Both to mend hurt feelings and rebuild our reputation. Our current board was not here when these problems occurred. We are simply hard working people that love Kanawha Players and want to see the organization succeed.

It is a very hard pill to swallow that we work so hard but are judged based off of the actions of a group of people most of us have never even met.

KP is a struggling and we do not always have what we need. But we pull together and make things happen. We are not a board that fights. We are family here. We strive to make shows fun and of quality. We are honest about what we need and expect of our volunteers. We appreciate everyone that walks through these doors and those that speak kindly of us immensely. Our work often goes without notice because people do not take the time to get to know us. We are actively as a board are going to be participating in more arts events in Charleston so we can get the chance to meet some of you and hopefully you will learn we are good people.

We thank everyone who has helped KP. We love and appreciate you all deeply.

Ginger Basham