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Theatre in the Square: Education, Plays, Tourism

Theatre in the Square, which is celebrating its 30th season, is facing financial difficulty.

has been a part of for 30 years. The nonprofit theater provides more than its 335 performances a year; it brings traffic to the Square, fosters a love of theater and works to educate children and adults.

The theater welcomes over 45,000 people through its doors each year and represents a $785,000 economic impact on . With a drop in ticket sales and donations, the theater announced an emergency fundraising drive.

"We're all connected," managing director Raye Varney said. "The people who come to the theater go out to the restaurants and bars in Marietta before and after seeing a show."

Approximately, 70 percent of audiences eat in Marietta when they see a show at the theater. The theater performs every day but Monday.

In addition to drawing visitors to Marietta and paying taxes, Theatre in the Square employs over 140 artists as well as a full-time staff of nine and a part-time staff of five. Prior to the recession the full-time staff was 12.

Furthermore, the theater has over 150 volunteers a year and three to seven interns. and Kennesaw State University have been the primary schools participating in the internship program, which introduces students to all facets of theater from management to stage direction to acting.

Ticket sales at the theater have dropped 10% since 2008. Because of the theater's nonprofit status, 65% of its income is earned through ticket sales and 35% relies on contributions. The nonprofit has a $1.5 million operating budget.

"The contributions we receive from individuals, the government and companies have dropped considerably because of the recession," Varney said. Donations have experienced a 30 percent cut in the last three years.

Since 2008, the theater has done two rounds of layoffs and pay cuts. "But our cuts have not been able to keep up with our decline," Varney said bluntly.

Theatre in the Square launched the campaign under which each of the 225 seats in the main stage will be "sold" for $1,000 to try to pay down $187,000 in debt. Donors' names will be placed on a plaque on the back of the seats. The theater is trying to raise $550,000 this fiscal year to support operations that have been hurt by cutbacks in donations.

Theatre in the Square has joined a trend among theaters, including Actor’s Express and, more recently, Georgia Shakespeare, launching emergency fund-raising drives, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.

"Our holiday show is our biggest event of the year," Varney said. "It's a tradition and our single best selling show." At least 90 groups arranged to see the Sanders Family Christmas, which is returning for the 13th year. The 1940's Radio Hour is also presented by the theater at Christmas time at .

Theatre in the Square is focused on spreading the power and importance of theater throughout Marietta. It hosts around 5,000 , , private and homeschool students on field trips to see its 55-minute children's theater productions geared for elementary audiences each fall. The plays are generally attended by students from kindergarten through sixth grade. Following shows, students often head to the Square for lunch.

The Story of the Three Little Pigs was the most recent of these performances. Prior to shows the young audiences are engaged in a discussion about theater etiquette. Following the show, they have the opportunity to ask actors questions.

"That particular show was taken from a book targeted for K through third grade," education director Susan Reid said. "But the story has been taken to a lot more levels that reach the older students as well. That's something we try to do. We want to bring theater to the lives of youths and help everyone find something in the plays we have."

"Theater has a big impact on youth," Varney said. "Students exposed to art at an early age are stronger and show more confidence and do better on tests. It's not just about exploring theater; it broadens us in many different ways."

For teen audiences, Theatre in the Square presents 10 a.m. morning matinees of shows specifically chosen with education in mind. The 2012 choice is Flyin' West by Pearl Cleage, which is intended to give students a look into the past.

Theater in the Square also has a series of seven and eight-week classes for adults and children including an Adult Acting Class, Kid's Production Class: Alice in Wonderland and T-Square Teen Company: Acting Fundamentals. Close to 100 people participate in these spring and winter classes.

In the summer, Theatre in the Square Camps, including Production Explosion, Jr., Middle School Company and High School Company, conclude six weeks of hard work with the presentation of a production in the theater's Alley Space.

In addition to hosting field trips and classes for youths and adults, Theatre in the Square has loaned props as well as their stage to schools such as Pope High School and for productions.

Founded in 1982 by Michael Horne and Palmer Wells, Theatre in the Square opened with On Golden Pond in an 85-seat space where is now located. The theater now resides in a former cotton warehouse on Marietta Square. It is the only professional theater and the largest non-profit arts organization in Cobb County.

This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Marietta are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.

Melissa Kory November 29, 2011 at 10:44 PM
What's your favorite play that you've seen at Theatre in the Square? So far I have only seen On Golden Pond, but I intend to go to the Christmas show.
Evalyn November 30, 2011 at 01:45 PM
I cannot wait to see the Sanders Family Christmas!

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