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Far From Saved: MPC Theatre Company's New Normal

Sky A. Rappoport
Credit Krista Almanzan
Director Gary Bolen gives the cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee his notes on their performance.

Friday is opening night for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Monterey Peninsula College. The Tony Award winning musical follows six awkward and overachieving high schoolers as they try to win the championship

It’s also the last production before drastic budget cuts kick in for the theatre department.  Earlier this year, it was facing a proposed cut of 82% of its budget and the elimination all four non-teaching staff positions,  a result of the college’s need to address an ongoing deficit.

“That would’ve effectively ended our program,” said Gary Bolen,  MPC Theatre Arts Chairman.   In the end what happened was a compromise of sorts.  Bolen’s department gets to keep two of its non-teaching staff, and his budget was cut by roughly 75%.

“People are saying,  well your department is saved!  And my response is no we’re not. We’re far from saved. We still need everyone’s support.  It’s not just that one time, here’s $100.  We need people support over the next ten years,” said Bolen.

This is the beginning of the new normal for the MPC Theatre Company.   Instead of seven or eight shows a year, it will do three or four, and even then, making that happen is going to depend largely on public support.

“We’re trying to think outside of the box,” said Terese Del Piero, acting President of the MPC Theatre Company Charitable Trust.  She’s working on a laundry list of ways to recruit volunteers and raise money: from a barbeque before the upcoming production of Oklahoma to selling more advertisements in the program, growing the theatre’s endowment and raffling off a tablet computer.

The trust also raises money through ticket sales.  In the past, all its efforts brought in $60,000 to $100,000 a year to support the program.  Now it needs to raise $200,000 annually with fewer shows. 

Del Piero is banking on the Theatre Department’s sixty year history in the community.  She says not only has it touched people who took classes or attended shows, but also many community actors like herself.  MPC performances features a combination of MPC students and community members who enroll at MPC just to participate in the show.

“So we’re really looking to those people who have been touched by MPC Theater Company, maybe it was 20 years ago, maybe it was 30 years ago, to come back and help in this fight for funding,” said Del Piero.

For every year the department has been around, the thought is there’s someone like actress Amanda Schemmel.  She’s playing Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  She’s  a senior at nearby CSU Monterey Bay, but has found her home taking theatre classes and performing at MPC.

“All my friends are here.  They’re my family down here.  They’re what has not made me homesick.  I really don’t know where I’d be without the theatre program here,” said Schemmel.

As Gary Bolen gets ready to adjust to MPC Theatre Company’s new normal, some advice he gives to students seems most appropriate.

“I tell my students the only reason to have a career in the theatre is because you must, meaning you won’t be content doing anything else because it can be a heartbreaking profession, but it’s also just amazingly rewarding,” said Bolen.

For the Theatre Company to carry on in this heartbreaking profession, it’s first goal is to raise $50,000 by July 1st when the cuts kick in.   It’s just $10,000 away.  And in addition to financial contributions, the Theatre Company needs volunteers to do everything from usher at shows to help plan events.   Click here for more information.