Curtains for Cumberland Playhouse?

Curtains for Cumberland Playhouse?

June 3rd, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

Casey Fox plucks string bass and sings "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder," with other members of the Cumberland Playhouse. Staff File Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press


For more information about how to support the Cumberland County Playhouse, contact Tracey Barnes Hughes at P.O. Box 484, Crossville, TN 38557, call 931-484-4324 ext. 253 or email


For tickets and information about shows, go to or call 931-484-5000. The 2011 season enters spring and summer with "My Fair Lady," which started April 8 and runs through June 9; "Duck Hunter Shoots Angel" started April 21 and continues till July 14; "Little Shop of Horrors" started May 19 and runs through Aug. 6; and "Oklahoma!" starts June 17 and continues until Aug. 18. The 2011 season continues through Dec. 18, including performances of "Chicago," "Dearly Departed," "Smoke on the Mountain," "Dreamgirls," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "The Nutcracker."

Tough economic times are threatening to draw a final curtain on the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville, Tenn., officials said.

The 2011 season has a full slate of rotating performances, but the past three years in a poor economy have taken their toll, playhouse producing director Jim Crabtree said.

"We are open and expect to remain open, but we still need the support of our friends and community," Crabtree said.

The playhouse, which had its beginnings in the early to mid-1960s, is the only major nonprofit professional performing arts facility in rural Tennessee and one of the 10 largest professional theaters in rural America, according to the organization's website.

It is the only nonprofit professional performing arts organization in Tennessee that owns and operates its performance facility, Crabtree said.

Part of the problem is the playhouse's successful past, he said.

"The playhouse historically has operated on 85 percent of earned revenues," he said of the operating record since its founding in 1965. "That's people walking through the door, buying a Coke at the concession stand, taking classes."

The long run of financial success concealed a weakness in keeping up and operating a facility, Crabtree said. Reduced ticket sales and unusually bad winter weather over the last several years that caused many school field trips to be canceled revealed a problem that "has been concealed by our strong earned income and self-reliance," Crabtree said.

Public funding accounts for only about 4 percent of the playhouse's revenue, and another 10 percent or so comes from sponsorships and donations, he said.

"We've been fighting this for three years and we've succeeded in cutting our budget by $1.3 million since 2007," he said of cuts that included pay reductions for 75 playhouse employees.

Crabtree said he thinks the solution is in a broadened support network of the playhouse's longtime fans and supporters of the arts across the state and Southeast. The best way to support the playhouse is to buy tickets, he said.

The playhouse and its employees are an important part of the local economy, Crabtree said.

"An even bigger work force is the folks that work in restaurants, gas stations and motels in our region and in communities on the way to us," he said.

General Manager Janet Klunder said revenue from ticket sales is about $300,000 behind last year's mark at the end of June, putting a significant dent in the playhouse's $2.5 million annual budget.

But Klunder said she's hopeful that the response to initial calls in a recent newsletter for donations will continue.

"It's heartwarming to see the response just over the weekend," she said. "It is up a little over last year, mostly due to the generosity of people over the past week."

People can help most by coming to the shows and bringing their friends, she said.