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208 208 12 a community of angels for actors theatre of louisville Jeffrey Ullom The opening night of a new theater season always provides a reason to celebrate, and the August 18, 2005, performance of Love, Janis at Actors Theatre of Louisville was no exception. Board members, theater staff, and longtime supporters of the local institution gathered in the voluminous lobby of the 637-seat Pamela Brown Auditorium with high expectations for the evening—after all, the Pamela Brown is the space that presented audiences with some of Actors Theatre’s most famous productions including the premieres of Dinner with Friends and Crimes of the Heart. This night, the opening of Actors Theatre’s forty-second season, would be memorable for reasons other than the upcoming production. Before the Joplin retrospective , community leaders and theater professionals convened for a brief ceremony in the lobby to recognize the accomplishments of one theater staff member. Although the evening’s events highlighted one man’s service to the theater, the brief celebration also served as reason to commemorate the many achievements of Actors Theatre as a whole, from its contentious beginnings to its steady growth under former producing director Jon Jory 209 a community of angels and finally to becoming the host of the nation’s preeminent new-play festival. Also helping commemorate Actors Theatre’s achievements that August night were its major donors—or angels—several patrons and civic leaders who also helped guide the theater to success, giving their time and money to help ensure stability for the once-struggling institution. The principle that guides and unites these angels is a credo of “community first,” a belief among the donors and patrons that their support and endeavors should not be for self-glorification or publicity but, instead, for the Louisville community’s benefit. Often labeled the “old money” of Louisville, the donors and patrons embody a smaller community, yet they act in the interest of the entire city. These civic leaders—who also founded and helmed Louisville’s major foundations and corporations—are responsible for helping Actors Theatre maintain its stability throughout its forty-two-year history, providing funds and support for both the theater and the arts community at large. Although Actors Theatre faces the same challenges as other theaters in attaining its fund-raising goals, the Louisville theater relies heavily upon the generosity of these donors, more than other theaters of a similar size in cities with a population equivalent to that of the Kentucky city.1 For example, according to 1984’s Theatre Profiles (the last year in which the Theatre Communication Group publication provided figures for a company’s operating expenses, earned income, and grants and contributions), Actors Theatre reported $3.2 million in operating expenses, with its grants and contributions providing $1.38 million toward the operating costs, accounting for 42.6 percent of its income. Other regional theaters were much less dependent upon the generosity of local corporations, foundations, and donors—Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre reported 33.4 percent deriving from grants, while Indiana Repertory Theatre (Indianapolis) and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre reported figures of 35.9 percent and 32.1 percent, respectively. As a result, Actors Theatre takes great care to involve corporate donors in its business affairs, inviting chief executive officers and other representatives of the corporations to serve on its board of directors.2 With its business partners serving a vital role for the theater through both leadership and financial support, Actors Theatre operates with the mentality of a smaller community theater rather than one of the nation’s leading regional theaters, where the bottom line and a foundation’s preferences for nonoffensive works dictate the season and where self-promotion drives 210 jeffrey ullom corporate giving. Much like a community theater, these angels not only donate money to fund productions but also share a vision for the prosperity of the arts in Louisville. The examination of each angel’s contribution to Actors Theatre also highlights how the theater’s leaders work tirelessly with these angels to ensure a bright future for both the theater and all arts organizations in the community. To theater professionals across the country, the name Actors Theatre of Louisville is synonymous with the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Considered the premiere new-play festival in the United States since its inception in 1976, the festival has presented over three hundred productions, including multiple Pulitzer, Drama Desk, and Obie award winners. As noted in the theater’s publicity...


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