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VOL. 128 | NO. 128 | Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Show Goes On

Tennessee Shakespeare Co. absorbs funding ups and downs

By Andy Meek

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Within the space of a week, Dan McCleary’s professional theater company lost major funding before almost simultaneously getting word that it has a big grant from Arts Midwest, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tennessee Shakespeare Co., shown participating in a student matinee post-show “talkback” with actors and high school students, has lost funding recently but also won a major grant from Arts Midwest in recent days. 

(Joey Miller)

Despite the whiplash of the news both good and bad, McCleary – founder and producing artistic director for Tennessee Shakespeare Co. – is unmoved from his vision. The show, as it were, must go on.

The Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen, citing the tough economy, last week voted to effectively end the city’s education grant funding to the theater company for the city’s annual budget that begins July 1.

McCleary said the city has awarded education grants of varying amounts for the past five years, and for the past two years the funding has totaled $70,000 each year.

Before the final vote on the issue, Tennessee Shakespeare supporters sent letters to the Germantown board asking for the city’s continued financial support. The supporters included Tennessee Shakespeare board president Dr. Owen Tabor, who wrote that “If Germantown wants to be seen as a community of desirable residence and business location, it cannot pull the rug out from under an organization that both in hard numbers and cultural prestige benefits it in such a positive way.”

McCleary said the city’s grant had helped make possible Tennessee Shakespeare’s classical education program and free or discounted access to performances at Germantown schools, among other things.

“I understand hard times, and I understand when you have to cut a budget,” said McCleary, for whom his theater company has been a passion since 2006, when he began sketching out a plan for it in his head while living in Massachusetts. “But I don’t look at a program that works and say, ‘I want to eliminate that.’ That’s in effect what the city did.

“I don’t understand the rationale, but what it means is classical Shakespeare education in Germantown will be eliminated for next year. So we won’t be able to program here the way we have for the past five years.”

The funds the city of Germantown voted to cut, it should be noted, don’t affect the theater company’s performing season. In McCleary’s words, “as far as our season of plays goes, we’re on.”

The same week as the Germantown vote, in fact, came a surprise dose of good news. Arts Midwest, as part of the Shakespeare in American Communities initiative, announced $1 million in grants to 40 theater groups in 21 states.

Tennessee Shakespeare was one of those groups, winning a $25,000 grant for the 2013-2014 season.

For that and other reasons, McCleary is keeping his chin up about the theater company’s future.

“We’re in a classroom every single day with innovative education programs,” he said. “We’re being asked to come into Memphis more and more, and we’re being asked to go to the other ends of Tennessee and into places like Florida, into Atlanta and Mississippi.”

McCleary is a Germantown High School graduate who moved away to pursue a career acting, directing and producing. A catalyst for his plans for Tennessee Shakespeare was a desire to see more professional classical theater in his hometown.

It evolved into an entity that performs the plays of William Shakespeare outdoors and indoors and provides a slate of educational and training programming, among other things.

“It’s personally heartbreaking not to be able to be in the classrooms with the education programming that I wish I’d have had when I was a student here,” McCleary said. “In the meantime, we are revising our performance season right now. And we have every intention of announcing an exciting season for our sixth year.”

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