Bard falls on hard times Summer squall: The Shakespeare Festival's coming season -- and possibly its whole future -- are $69,000 away from being doomed.

April 26, 1996|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, a relative newcomer to the city's cultural scene, may be forced to cancel its coming summer season because it can't raise enough money to continue operations, its directors say.

For the past two summers, the festival has presented Shakespearean dramas performed and directed by a professional cast. Throughout the academic year, the festival has taken abridged versions of its productions on the road to public schools throughout Maryland and Delaware.

Beginning in June it is scheduled to produce "As You Like It" and, for children, "Winnie-the-Pooh" outdoors at the Cloisters. But unless the organization can raise $69,000 in the next five days, the management will begin canceling plans for the summer season. And, though funding has been found for the festival's educational components, failure of the summer season would place the entire organization in jeopardy.

"I've got a lot of people thinking that they are going to be participating in this, and [if we can't raise the necessary money] it's only fair to tell them as soon as possible that 'No, this isn't happening,' " says Kelley Dunn, artistic director and co-founder of the festival.

Over three years, the festival grew substantially. In 1994, it had a $38,000 budget, and presented "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to 1,500 summer spectators and 1,300 students in six schools.

The budget grew to $270,000 last year when the festival presented "Romeo and Juliet" to an audience of 3,300 and reached 15,000 students in 15 schools, says Ms. Dunn.

Last summer, ticket sales generated $41,000 -- about 15 percent of the budget, says Rick Feliz, festival co-founder and managing director. The festival's projected budget for 1996 is $360,000.

In addition to bringing Shakespearean plays into the schools, the festival also sponsors drama workshops for students, including one led by Andre Braugher, a classically trained actor best known for his role as Det. Frank Pembleton in NBC's "Homicide."

"The festival adds to the prestige and the cache of the city," says Mr. Braugher. "If you want a really living vibrant town, you will work to keep the arts alive. If you want a stale, commercial town the first thing to do is let the arts go."

The festival has been wrestling with financial difficulties for the past few months. The telling blow came earlier this week when the Abell Foundation rejected the group's request for a $150,000 grant. In 1994, the festival received a $5,000 start-up grant from the foundation, and last year it got a a one-time-only grant of about $82,500.

"We gave them a grant last year, which was by far the biggest grant they received, and we told them at the time that it was a one-year proposition and they assured us that they understood that," says Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, "What is not often understood is if we fund them we don't fund someone else."

"I don't want the Abell Foundation to appear as the bad guy. They're not," says Ms. Dunn. "It's just that we are brand new, and not enough people know about us."

For now, festival administrators are developing a new plan that will include cutting costs, and looking for alternative sources of money. "It will be very difficult without the summer season -- without a season it's very difficult to produce the shows and to draw in the professional actors," says board member Charles Cusic.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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