Totem Pole looking for funds to keep curtain up

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot

As the curtain goes down this year on Totem Pole Playhouse's 62nd consecutive summer season, the local theatrical mainstay faces a cloudy future in which the curtain may not rise again for a 63rd season.

Despite an artistically successful 2012 season, a combination of lower revenue and rising costs have left Totem Pole short of the funds needed to begin work on the 2013 season. The Board of Directors has announced an immediate campaign to raise $250,000 by Oct. 1 in order to save the theater and ensure the 2013 season will happen.

The infusion of cash is meant to help the Playhouse change artistic direction. In an effort to keep costs down and in line with revenue, the company has been in recent years producing lesser known shows with smaller casts. These smaller shows, though popular with some established ticket holders, have proven harder to market and less popular with the area's wider audiences.

"People love what we do with our productions, but we need Camelot," says artistic director Ray Ficca. "We need My Fair Lady. We need shows that people recognize, that they're excited about, so we can fill the seats. But the harsh truth is that we don't have the financial resources right now to even begin thinking about productions of that size, and to get there, it's going to take some help."

Totem Pole is rare among theaters nationally, having kept ticket prices stable and low for a number of years, yet they rely more on those ticket sales for their operating budget than almost any theater in the country. Similar companies can get by on covering 40 percent of their production budget through ticket sales alone, making up the difference in tax deductible donations and other grants. Totem Pole covers as much as 80 percent of their production budget with ticket sales. While ticket prices have remained stable, costs have continued to rise, resulting in the surest critical situation.

Started in 1950, at the height of the summer stock movement, Totem Pole came to be known as the 'Cadillac of summer theaters.' The Playhouse has employed professional actors from the beginning, and has launched the careers of many well known stars, from John Ritter and Jean Stapleton in the early days to Broadway stalwarts like Jane Houdyshell (Wicked, Tony-nominated for Follies and Well) and Katrina Yaukey (War Horse, Cabaret, Billy Elliot.)

The Board of Directors believes that major changes in the organization, including bigger programming with tiered ticket pricing that reflects the costs of some of the larger productions, will ensure the future of the theater. To fund these changes over $250,000 has to be raised by Oct. 1. Some sizable donations are critical to making this transition successful, but donations of any size will help. All donations are tax deductible, and more information can be obtained by visiting the Playhouse's website at or by calling 1-888-805-7056.