The Show Goes On© George Cannon — Images
Endicott’s Cider Mill Playhouse has been entertaining audiences in the Binghamton region for nearly 40 years. Founded as an extension of the Binghamton University theater department, the Playhouse became an independent nonprofit in 1991.
Season after season of high-quality shows have earned the Playhouse a loyal following. But by 2013, the organization also faced a serious budget deficit. “The Playhouse had reached the point where its sustainability was very much in question,” says Gail Belokur, who joined as executive and artistic director in 2014.
To ensure its future, the Playhouse worked with the New York Council of Nonprofits (NYCON) to conduct an organizational assessment. Then staff and board members developed a strategic plan that focused on capacity building. For advice about how to stay afloat during tough economic times, they connected with their counterparts at similar organizations in the region, such as the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca and the Cortland Repertory Theatre.
Since then, the Playhouse has restructured its staff and taken a fresh look at its offerings, with an eye toward expanding its audience. “We’ve tried to make sure that every show in the season will be embraced by our existing subscription base but will attract new patrons as well,” Belokur says.
With a solid strategic plan and measurable objectives in place, the Cider Mill Playhouse has been winning greater support from local foundations. Theatergoers are also voting with their wallets. “We have seen significant increase in attendance,” Belokur says.
Thanks to those new relationships, the Playhouse recently cut its deficit in half. Supporters hope soon to close the budget gap completely.
One piece of critical support the Playhouse gained in 2014 was an $8,820 grant from the Community Foundation. The Playhouse used that gift to upgrade and replace outdated equipment—mainly lighting and electrical gear—and to give its box office a second computer workstation.
Since they posed a potential safety hazard, the aging lights and related electrical infrastructure created an especially difficult challenge. There was no money to spare in the operating budget, but the Playhouse absolutely had to make the upgrade—even if that meant shutting down while it raised the funds. Thanks to the grant, says Belokur, the Playhouse was able to phase in new equipment, and the performance season never missed a beat. “The Community Foundation has allowed us to keep our doors open.”