Community must come together to keep theater open

The glass is half-empty at the Ricks-Weil Theater in Greenfield. Dave Scott, the current theater manager, is not currently booking dates for 2018 because there are no guaranteed funds coming from Hancock County. Dave Scott deserves kudos for being the driving force that got the theater renovated both long-ago and recently, but is pulling the plug on the ship now the way he wants to be remembered?

Not booking dates for 2018 ensures the failure of the theater, as it will sit empty while regular renters seek other venues they may find they like better.

A different response could be one of leadership and “not on my watch” for the not-yet defunded theater. This includes Visitor’s Bureau immersion with an all-hands on deck approach.

For grant funding success, the Visitor’s Bureau could partner with other non-profits who use the theater. Grantors generally require partnerships before granting funds,  and these partnerships are ready-made in the form of the theater companies and music and dance ensembles who currently book the theater. To keep the theater open, I’m sure many of these non-profits would assist with the heavy lifting for the grant writing.

Elanco needs large venues for delivering training to visiting employees. This venue could provide the vehicle and ensure Greenfield is the place Elanco houses their over-night trainees (hotel guests.) The library stays booked for their conference rooms; could they send over-flow requests to the theater? Has anyone coordinated?

Regional night-spots like Richmond’s The Firehouse or Indianapolis’s The Slippery Noodle book bands that are enroute from east to west or west to east and would love another opportunity to perform along the I-70 corridor. Being non-profits, they could pay a premium booking fee at the theater.

As a fund-raiser for the Hope House, the former Hope House executive director Carl Denny booked a band in 2016 that drew people from out of state. Some of them booked hotels in Greenfield as they didn’t want to drive home long distances at night. The theater has a cozy bar upstairs and serves alcohol, another great revenue generator.

There is always the public ask. The theater has the advertising space via the marquee and its underutilized but over-sized windows for such an ask. Imagine the progress thermometer rising every week as the generosity of Hancock County citizens overflows to keep the theater open.

There is precedence for this as the public was part of the funding for the renovations of the theater back in 2005 after the Strahl family generously donated the building to the county. And Dave Scott led the way. Can he and the Visitor’s Bureau rekindle this passion now instead making the theater go dark?

There are social media funding sites like GoFundMe. I assume there are niche sites for public/private concerns. The Visitor’s Bureau could start an online capital campaign at the very least.

But to throw in the towel, to do nothing but guarantee failure for this venue by not booking dates is the last thing that needs to happen. Failure is not an option. This situation requires every ounce of energy the Visitor’s Bureau and Dave Scott can muster to make it work.

This brings me to the final suggestion: could a firm who specializes in booking talent be hired to bring in more revenue? I jokingly instruct my husband: you have to spend money to save money. Although the future of the Ricks-Weil Theater is not a joking matter, this wisdom may hold true in these circumstances. It boils down to hiring the right people for the right job at the right time.

Donna Steele, a retired educator, hails from Alabama and made Hancock County her home in 2011. She can be reached at dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.