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The Rep closes in on year-end fundraising goal — but isn’t there yet

St. Louis Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith, left, joined actor John Goodman for a Sunday night fundraiser. The Rep is closing in on its year-end fundraising goal, but leaders are not yet sure that they'll be able to continue the current season into 2024.
Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Former St. Louis Cardinals star Ozzie Smith, left, joins actor John Goodman for a Sunday night fundraiser. The Rep is closing in on its year-end fundraising goal, but leaders are not yet sure that they'll be able to continue the current season into 2024.

Fundraisers at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis have raised $1.85 million toward a $2.5 million goal that theater leaders have said they need to meet by the end of the year.

A weekend fundraiser headlined by actor John Goodman raised $150,000 for the cause, from ticket sales, a silent auction and additional donations prompted by the high-energy event. Retro group the Lovettes performed, and retired St. Louis Cardinals star Ozzie Smith and St. Louis City forward Nicholas Gioacchini made brief remarks. Goodman read aloud Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” after sitting for an onstage interview conducted by Associate Artistic Director Becks Redman.

“It's giving us the runway to now dare to dream, and to actually put the pieces together to announce the [next] season,” Managing Director Danny Williams said of the money raised so far.

In an October announcement, the theater launched the “Rally for the Rep” fundraising campaign. Theater leaders also scaled down their plans for the rest of the 2023-24 season and said the two mainstage shows still planned for the new year could not go forward without a successful fundraising effort.

The campaign started slowly, Williams said, but picked up steam around Thanksgiving. Over the course of a few hours on Wednesday, a theater spokesperson updated the total raised by an additional $100,000.

With fewer than two weeks remaining in the year, the amount raised makes a direct impact on what the theater will be able to do in the immediate future. If the fundraising campaign doesn’t hit $2.5 million by the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, it doesn’t mean the company will vanish, Williams said.

“We might have to look at the rest of our season in stages. Two million dollars probably helps unlock one mainstage production, and maybe the next $500,000 unlocks some future programming,” Williams said. “I really need to make sure people know there is still a need for support, but I also don’t want to sound ungrateful for the extreme generosity we’ve received so far,” he added.

Chicago trio The Lovettes performed at a Sunday night fundraiser for the Rep.
Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Chicago trio the Lovettes perform at a Sunday night fundraiser for the Rep.

Theater leaders said the Rep’s budget hole comes from declining ticket sales, a turn by some nonprofit funders away from the arts and the expiration of federal coronavirus relief funding.

“The model has to change,” board President Brian Clevinger said, noting that nonprofit theater companies typically lose money on their productions and thus depend in large part on private philanthropy and government support. There is more competition for those funding sources than ever. “Right now,” he added, “that’s a difficult hill to climb. A number of the big corporations in town have decreased their support of the arts, and we need to have people take their place.”

Clevinger said the Rep has lost a lot of expertise in recent years, with much turnover among theater technicians and the departure of a longtime fundraising chief with deep community connections. Artistic Director Hana Sharif left in June for a position in Washington, D.C., after five years in the job.

“We just have to be better fundraisers,” Clevinger said. “We have to have a really first-class fundraiser come in and help us with this problem.”

The Rep’s production of “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” featuring all St. Louis actors — a late substitution for the more expensive and lavish adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” previously announced — wraps up on Saturday.

Theater leaders aim to mount David Catlin’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” in February and Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County” in March.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.