The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 27, 2012

Nonprofit counts on donations | Sources of funding are difficult to find

BY RUTH RICE
RRICE@TRIBDEM.COM

— Elaine Mastalski, executive director of Cresson Lake Playhouse, 279 Shapiro Road, Loretto, was hired for her background in business.

She has been with the playhouse for 12 years and is a voting member of the board of directors.

“I started as a part-time worker, but I never had one part-time day,” Mastalski said.

“I was needed for my business background. I started to organize things, then the business director moved on, and I was promoted.”

Treasurer Candy Long has been with Cresson Lake about a year.

She is a teacher in Altoona and serves as chief operating officer for the James Harrison Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in November 2010 to help children with disabilities and their families.

Because the playhouse is nonprofit, it depends on donations, corporate sponsors, grants and fundraisers to keep it afloat.

“Ticket sales do not cover costs,” Mastalski said.

Trickle-down effect

“The recession in 2008 didn’t have an immediate effect on us, but there has been a trickle-down effect.”

While looking for sponsors and writing grants, Mastalski said that funding sources are difficult to find.

“Central Pennsylvania doesn’t have the advantage of a metropolitan area like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia,” she said.

“We’re forgotten by the rest of the state. The topic of concern among many nonprofits in central Pennsylvania is we don’t have large corpor-ations and have to keep asking the same companies over and over.”

Fundraisers can be equally elusive, with the playhouse getting most of its donations from a letter-writing campaign.

‘Appeal to community’

“We appeal to the community and patrons who come to Cresson Lake,” Mastalski said.

“There’s also a Girls Night Out fundraiser.”

Mastalski has had donation requests herself, 40 already this year, which she believes is a lot for a small business such as the playhouse.

“It’s difficult to cover the requests,” she said.

The playhouse’s annual operating budget of $200,000 must be met, no matter what the economic trend.

“We have to make it work,” Mastalski said.

“We have to volunteer more hours instead of hiring someone if we believe in what we’re doing. I love that central Pennsylvania has community theater.”

Despite the economy, Mastalski has not seen theatergoers hold back on attendance at the barn theater.

“If you go to a movie and buy popcorn and a soda, you spend more,” she said.

“The economic downturn has not affected Cresson Lake. People know good, quality entertainment. Whether they’re retired or young, if they like the show, they will support it.”

While patrons come from closer areas such as Johnstown, Somerset and Patton to see a show, they also travel from New Florence, DuBois and State College.

People who come to see a show at Cresson Lake sometimes travel across the country to get there.

Some who live in California or the state of Washington come to the area to visit Prince Gallitzin State Park or Lake Raystown and see the theater listed in the visitor guide.

Some from Oregon have been coming back to Cresson Lake for five or six years, while another who had lived in Johnstown and was now in California came when he visited his family.

“They made a night out at the theater a part of their trip,” Mastalski said.

“Some season ticket holders live in Florida the rest of the year. We get a great mixture of new and returning people.”

Because Cresson Lake is small, patrons get to talk with each other on the porch before the show.

“They can stand around and get the story of why people are there,” Mastalski said.

“There are 12 ladies who have been coming for more than 20 years.”

Mastalski is always looking for better ways to do business.

“Learning and growing is part of the mindset,” she said.

“You have to grow with the times and be competitive.”

Gift cards good for theater performances have been available since the fall.

The purchaser puts a dollar amount on the card which can be used on one show or more throughout the season.

“We weren’t equipped to process something like this before,” Mastalski said.

“It took awhile to figure out. We wanted people to use it at their discretion. Some who came in for gift certificates were unaware we had the gift cards.”

Looking to the future, Mastalski believes Cresson Lake is on the cutting edge of theater.

“We’ve produced a lot of good shows,” she said.

“We just produced ‘Avenue Q’ and will be doing ‘Legally Blonde.’ Next season, we’re doing ‘The Little Mermaid.’ We’re keeping abreast of the times with quality shows.”

Guests at the playhouse love the atmosphere of its presidium stage with the audience surrounding the actors.

“It’s like being part of the show,” Mastalski said.

“Some of the seats are on the stage. They love the feeling of belonging and the interaction, and the children can see. It’s a great theater experience.

“I enjoy being entertained as much as anyone, and I find a comfort at Cresson Lake that’s not found in other venues.”

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