Birthdays ending in zero or five tend to up the ante. So Ovation! Musical Theatre, on the cusp of its fifth, wants to celebrate big.
“We’re having a party for ourselves, that we’re inviting the community to,” co-founder Marijane Milton said.
Ovation, run by a board of directors and a dedicated group of volunteers, is typically extremely disciplined about staging its shows. After all, it’s lasted this long in large part through diligence and frugality.
“All bootstraps,” said co-founder and board member Peter Denis of the group’s humble origins. “That was the thing of it. We’re ardent, we’re creative, and we have no money. How can we do something fantastic?”
But on Saturday night at the Bainbridge Commons, they’ll let loose a little bit with “Saturday Night Safari – Singers Gone Wild.”
The board calls the event a “fun-raiser,” both a chance for the troupe’s extended musical family to let loose a little with its song choices and format, while also building some rainy-day capital.
In June 2003, Marijane and her husband Ron joined with Denis, Corinna Lapid-Munter and Jon Doll to form a nonprofit organization and scrape together enough money to stage a musical. Ovation held its first fundraiser, face-painting at the Grand Old Fourth celebration, raising $600. Through the rest of the summer, it re-invested some of that money into two additional fund raisers, cost-conscious cabaret-style performances held in the basement of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.
The winter saw the staging of two subsequent small-scale original productions, followed in July 2004 by “The Pirates of Penzance” at the Bainbridge High School Theatre.
Ovation charged $11 for tickets. In retrospect, they think they should have charged $20; 2,300 people attended the show over its run.
“It was a real turning point, and it gave us the ability to expand,” Marijane said.
Since then, the troupe’s m.o. and reputation have evolved. In the tradition of European theater troupes, everybody chips in with virtually every task. Sets are constructed in the Miltons’ garage, volunteers take care of core tasks, and they’re taking smart advantage of technology, for example making use of Pay Pal to facilitate online ticket sales.
Then there’s costume designer Barbara Klingberg, who joined in 2005 with “The Music Man.” She’s a master of economy who can work miracles with a bolt of donated fabric.
“I don’t think people would believe I was costuming our actors for less than $50 per actor,” Klingberg said.
And their reputation for “exquisite preparation,” as Marijane puts it, combined with family-style generosity and consistent artistic and music direction, has enabled the group’s performer base to extend Bainbridge and into the wider reaches of Kitsap.
As performer quality has broadened, audience trust in turn has grown, to the point where even the performance times that conventional wisdom calls risky – summertime and holidays – find packed houses.
At this stage of the game, 70 percent of Ovation’s total revenue comes from ticket sales, with additional proceeds coming from donations, sales of costumes and sets and other sources.
Right now, they’re feeling flush. But with production costs averaging $30,000 per show, they also want cash reserves in hand to prepare for the unexpected. Plenty of nonprofit theater groups remember the winter storm of 2006, whose power outages forced performance cancellations during key holiday dates.
Meantime, what Denis calls the “hardy band of adventurers” show no signs of flagging and is already looking ahead to the 10th anniversary celebration, perhaps a re-staging of “Pirates.” They’ll forge ahead with the same brand of growing business savvy and musical joie de vivre that have gotten them this far.
“We didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be as successful as we are,” Ron said.
Ovation! presents “Saturday Night Safari – Singers Gone Wild!,” a fifth anniversary celebration and fund-raising event at 7:30 p.m. June 7 at the Bainbridge Commons. Tickets, $50, are on sale now at Winslow Drug and online at www.ovationmtb.com. Join Ovation! for an evening of fun, music, great food and entertainment. Cash bar provided, safari attire optional. For information, see www.ovationmtb.com.