The show must go on.
But at Hull High School, it won’t, unless everyone involved in the school’s theater arts program — and their families — pitches in.
The Broadway-style musical productions put on by the theater arts program require not only user fees, but the intensive fund-raising that students and parents have gotten used to since failed overrides in 2009 and 2010 led to drastic cuts in the school’s athletics and activity budgets.
The user fees — $125 for the first production, $100 for the second, and $75 for the third — generate just a small fraction of the needed funds.
For Lisa Jenkins, the president of Friends of Hull High School Theatre Arts, the decision to get involved with fund-raising was a simple one. Two of her daughters, Brittany and Ashley, have gone through the program, and a third, Melaney, is in seventh grade and ready to join.
Jenkins said the parents of students in the drama program were always around helping out, but the group went into survival mode after the failed override in 2009. She said keeping the program afloat depends on a constant supply of willing volunteers.
“You have to break in new parents and hope they will recognize the worth of the program, that they’ll feel the way I did when I started,” she said.
She said 30 to 40 students take part in each production, many of them high-achieving kids and “the cream of the crop” at the school.
The school budget covers some small salary stipends, and the money raised by the parents’ group covers stipends for professionals, such as the director, musical director, choreographer, and musicians.
Additional expenses, including rights fees, scenery, and costumes, are funded by special events, program ads, sponsorships, and ticket sales. Groups such as the Hull PTO have also contributed to the children’s theater programs.
Joseph Doniger, who has participated in drama programs in Hull schools for 41 years, 26 of them at the high school, estimated that the costs for a musical can range from $10,000 to $15,000, not including salaries.
Meeting the budget often requires creativity. Doniger traveled to New York City to find the right fabrics for costumes for the production of “The Wizard of Oz” during the holiday season.
He is even considering employing Flying by Foy, the internationally acclaimed experts in theatrical flying effects, for Oz; the group used Foy in a production of “Willy Wonka.”
“I think it’s worth every penny, but it is a lot of pennies to create those special effects,” he said.
Doniger said he expects this year to be a challenge, because many of the parents who were key fund-raisers in recent years have seen their children graduate, and he is hopeful that a new group of parents will step into the breach.
“There was a nucleus of parents who did anything and everything,” he said. “The entire Jenkins family has been incredible in keeping us going.”
In one of the annual fund-raisers — the “Rake Take,” which has raised as much as $4,000 — many parents have to be available for virtually an entire weekend to rake and bag leaves, a major commitment on a busy fall weekend, Doniger said.
Jenkins said the hardest part of the fund-raising is the competition among many worthy groups for the limited resources in a small town.
“People here are extraordinarily generous,” she said. “But we all keep going back to the same well.”
Still, failure is not an option.
“I can only hope my daughter in Grade 7 gets out of it what [her sisters] got out of it,” said Jenkins. “Their whole lives were defined by the program.”