Curtain might ring down on Totem Pole Playhouse

$250K needed to reopen theater at Caledonia State Park for 2013 season

August 29, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • Gathered outside the Totem Pole Playhouse in Fayetteville, Pa., Wednesday are, from left, Artistic Director Ray Ficca, Board of Directors member Nathan Rotz and board President Dana Witt.
Photo by Roxann Miller

FAYETTEVILLE, Pa. — The Totem Pole Playhouse needs to raise $250,000 to see another summer season, theater officials said Wednesday.

 Dana Witt, president of the Totem Pole Playhouse’s board of directors, said when the curtain goes down on the playhouse’s current summer season, it could be the last year for the local theatrical mainstay.

 “Totem Pole Playhouse celebrated its 62nd anniversary in 2012. Right now, that future is in doubt,” she said.

 In recent years, the quality has been so high and ticket prices so low that Totem Pole has been producing many smaller-cast shows, Witt said.

 “The financial byproduct of this fiscally responsible effort is this: we do not have the capital resources needed to make the leap to the larger and better-known programming we feel we need to produce in order to survive,” she said.

 Totem Pole Playhouse, off U.S. 30 in Caledonia State Park east of Chambersburg, Pa., has provided professional summer theater to residents of and visitors to the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania since 1950.


 The playhouse’s board of directors set a goal to raise $250,000 by Oct. 1 to guarantee there will be a 2013 season, Witt said.

 The fundraising campaign will kick off Sunday, Sept. 16, with Robbie Limon Rocks the Totem Pole from 1 to 4 p.m.  

 The $60 general ticket cost will go toward Totem Pole’s $250,000 campaign.

 “People love what we do with our productions, but we need ‘Camelot,’” said 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 Ficca said the harsh truth is that the playhouse doesn’t have the financial resources to even begin thinking about productions of that size.

 Playhouse board member Nathan Rotz said it will take a quarter of a million dollars to produce the larger shows for 2013 that the board feels will bring in crowds.

 He said attendance is down because the playhouse has been putting on smaller, unknown productions in the last few years.

 “About 10 years ago, we had an attendance of approximately 28,000 to 30,000, and right now we’re hovering around 23,000” for the season, Rotz said.

 As soon as the money comes in, Ficca knows how he’ll spend it for the 2013 season.

 “The plan is to do a Tony award-winning Broadway musical or at least a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, which we have not done for over 20 years,” Ficca said.

 Also, he wants to add some classic, bigger-cast comedies into Totem Pole’s performance mix. In addition, Ficca said programming that has consistently worked with the Totem Pole audience would be part of the 2013 season.

 Rotz said ticket prices could increase in 2013. Ticket prices will have to reflect the cost of the shows, he said.

 Unlike other theater companies, Totem Pole covers as much as 80 percent of its production budget with ticket sales, said Sue McMurtray, the playhouse’s managing director. 

 “While ticket prices have remained stable, costs have continued to rise, resulting in the surest critical situation,” McMurtray said.

 If the $250,000 goal is not reached by Oct. 1, Witt said there will be no 2013 summer season and the theater will close.

 Donations to the campaign — which do not include the Limon show — would be returned if the theater is not able to continue, Witt said.

 But Witt is optimistic the community will rally and raise the funds to save the local landmark.

 “I think that there are enough people out there for whom it would be equally devastating who will say, ‘I want to do my part,’ and ensure Totem Pole’s future. I think we’ll be seeing you in 2013,” she said.

Learn more

For more information about the fundraising campaign, log on to the playhouse’s website at or call 1-888-805-7056. 

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