I have been to well over 30 performances by the American Shakespeare Center. I have witnessed the transformational quality of their work in the schools and on the stage of the Blackfriars. At a time when theaters and arts organizations are dying all over the United States, the ASC is still doing its thing, supporting itself predominately through earned income and ticket sales and there aren't many theaters that can say the same. The company is scrappy and the work is hard on stage and off. Personally, I admire the organization.
Ten years ago this organization was exclusively a touring company taking their vibrant high energy shows to colleges, performing arts centers and high schools all over the country and occasionally abroad. Now they're in a multi-million dollar recreation of Shakespeare's indoor playhouse. That's an enormous change for any business, to go from grass roots to establishment in a decade. I've been impressed by how well the company has weathered the transformation.
And when you talk transformation, you really have to look at how the ASC's resident city, Staunton has blossomed since the Blackfriars opened its doors. The city has always been beautiful but the tourism inspired by the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse has breathed new life into it. Downtown, new restaurants, a beautiful conference center, high end boutiques, coffee shops, antique dealerships and all sorts of other businesses have sprouted since and profited from the ASC's success. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine listed Staunton 10th in "The 20 Best Small Towns in America" and Travel and Leisure named Staunton one of America's Greatest Main Streets. None of that could have happened without the ASC. The Blackfriars has given a serious boost to the local economy.
I read the revue before mine and was a little shocked by the short sighted and ill informed criticism. I guess it's pretty easy to throw anonymous jabs when you aren't looking at the big picture. The organization is small. The hours that actors, staff, and directors put in are grueling. Anybody who has worked for or owns a small or growing business can relate. It wears folks out; that's one reason so many new businesses fail. If you compare apples to apples, I think the American Shakespeare Center's track record would strike you as impressive. What they create and give back to their audiences is powerful. Anyone who loves Shakespeare and believes in the ability of the arts to transform a person or an entire community should definitely consider writing a check. The ASC will stretch the dollars as far as they can. Of that I'm certain.
What they do on stage is mostly great. Actors are top-notch and their enthusiasm for the work shows in every production. Directing is usually inspired, though some of the repetitive schtick can get old if you've seen a few productions.
But the company's administration is managed very poorly. Staff turnover is exceptionally high for the industry, which causes overall inefficiencies in operation as the company is constantly losing skills and institutional memory while having to re-train new hires. Vendor payments are often delayed for months or even more than a year due to cash-flow issues. Precious cash is wasted on late fees. Apparently, the ability to make payroll seems to be in question on a regular basis. The recent hire of a young, inexperienced managing director seems to have done little to get the company out of a constant state of financial crisis.
Anyone thinking of donating to this company should ask some serious questions about financial management and human resource strategy before opening their checkbook.
Review from Guidestar