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SecondStory Repertory facing bankruptcy

SecondStory Repertory (SSR), Redmond's only professional theatre company, faces the most severe financial crisis of its decade-long life.

SSR has entertained tens of thousands people from its second-story home inside Redmond Town Center. Now, in its 11th season, SSR is faced with the daunting challenge of raising $80,000 by Dec. 31, 2009 or entering bankruptcy and ceasing all operations immediately.

"I believe in the power of theatre," said Susanna Wilson, SSR artistic director. "I believe in THIS theatre. Facing this financial crisis is challenging, but I believe it is a challenge that Redmond and the Eastside can meet head-on. ... If each person that has walked through our doors in the past decade donated just a few dollars, we could do it! If everyone who believes this entire community benefits from SecondStory can make a small donation, we can make it. Our long-term goal is to make Redmond a destination for theatre and the fine arts but we can't do it alone. With help, we can rebound. Left alone, the theatre will fold."

The economic downturn and its significant impacts on cultural organizations have resulted in dramatically decreased revenue for one of this region's few remaining mid-sized theatres. SSR's financial condition has been exacerbated by a leadership transition and commitment to maintain an 80/20 earned/contributed income budget structure that has proven to be impossible.

Like all organizations affected by the recession, SSR has seen a steady and significant decline in audience attendance: 40 percent decrease in children's theatre production attendance, and a 30 percent decrease in Mainstage production attendance. This, combined with diminished arts funding (down as much as 30 percent area-wide, according to Executive Service Corps of Washington) and decreased corporate contributions (down as much as 50 percent area-wide, also according to Executive Service Corps of Washington) has led to a downward cycle of staff cutbacks, deferred salaries and smaller marketing budgets that might normally work to improve audience numbers. At this time, SSR struggles to meet payroll for the four remaining permanent staff members and contractual performing artists.

SSR's deficit has slowly increased since 2006 and at the end of 2008, board and staff sent out a fundraising letter to raise the $15,000 needed to maintain operations. Although this appeal was successful, the budget gap has continued to grow.

SSR has jumped on unexpected fundraising opportunities like the Oct. 24, 2009 "Thrill the World" Zombie Block Party at Redmond Town Center.

That event brought in an estimated $3,000 as 300 people danced to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and broke the world record for world-wide simultaneous dancing.

The next fundraising event, "Vegas or Bust" is Saturday, Nov. 21 from 6-10 p.m. at Starry Nights Catering Company, 11200 Kirkland Way in Kirkland.

The event is coupled with an online auction. Items include trips to Vegas and the 2010 Tony Awards in New York City, plus a Mariners shirt signed by Ichiro. The online auction website is: http://secondstoryrep.cmarket.com. Visit http://www.secondstoyrep.org.or/supportssr/events to reserve online.

Statistics and survey feedback have confirmed that SSR is most definitely fulfilling a gap in children's programming and education outreach on the Eastside.

Participation in both at-school and in-house arts education classes has more than doubled in the last 12 months. School performances at SSR have more than tripled and school bookings for the remaining Children's Theatre shows are filling fast.

SSR has quickly recognized youth programming as an opportunity and new events like the upcoming Holiday Drop n' Shop are giving local families an arts-oriented short-term childcare alternative from Nov. 27-Dec. 19 with supervised play, crafts and theatre games for kids age 5-12 while parents shop. Cost is $15 for two hours.

SSR staff and board have also enlisted help from the Executive Service Corps of Washington and the Shunpike organization.

Their advice and expertise in crafting debt-reduction and long-term sustainability plans will be crucial to SSR's future. The current plan calls for a modified 60/40 earned/contributed budget structure so that the organization operates without debt and at breakeven by 2013. The board will be developing operating policies and practices that will allow it to fulfill its governance and fiduciary roles.

They will also develop specific plans for carrying out its support role of garnering resources for the organization in order to aggressively raise money and improve ticket sales. Programming changes designed to increase funding are also scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of season 12.

SSR has also launched a reading series of five productions over the next six months with little or no cost to the organization and a suggested donation at the door.

Each reading is for a play under consideration for next season and includes an "audience talk-back" afterwards.

"Bunnicula" and "A Christmas Cabaret" will go on as planned. Tickets for "A Christmas Cabaret" are $27 and the shows run Nov. 27 - Dec. 27. Tickets for "Bunnicula" are $9 and the show runs from Oct. 30-Nov. 15.

Donations of any amount will gratefully be accepted at http://www.secondstoryrep.org/supportssr/donate.html

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