By MADDY VITALE
The Greater Ocean City Theatre Company has been providing family-friendly entertainment in the resort for years, while helping hone the skills of local talents.
But late last month, OCTC announced on the nonprofit’s Facebook page that the theatre company is struggling due to a lack of participation and ticket sales and there were difficult decisions that had to be made, which resulted in cuts.
“Our 16th season will look different because we have decided to disband or end some longstanding elements of OCTC,” Founding Artistic Director Michael Hartman said Sunday.
He noted, “For financial reasons and lack of participation/ticket sales,” areas of the theater program needed to be eliminated – at least in the foreseeable future.
Among them was cutting the Spotlight Performers Show Choir. The choir has been a mainstay at city parades, including the Night in Venice boat parade, the OCTC Christmas show and the annual Broadway on the Ocean City Boardwalk event.
Hartman explained some of the issues.
“Even as a nonprofit, OCTC must operate using sustainable business practices. We had to make tough decisions for our 2023 season based on past sales and revenue,” he said. “Like all businesses, we face a workforce shortage, so we decided to scale back our season to focus on staffing when programming is in full swing.”
He noted that the financial expense to charter and rent boats and floats for parades and the cost to costume, obtain music, and staff the choir are “no longer viable with the decline in participation and support from sponsors.”
One significant expense was the payment of rights and royalties totaling $19,000 in 2022, he said.
OCTC was also forced to scale back the five-show Summer Children’s Series that performed a morning and evening performance at the Music Pier to a four-show series, eliminating evening performances. Hartman said while there are cuts, there are discussions about ways to keep the Show Choir as part of OCTC.
“However, participating in events like Night in Venice is no longer practical when considering ways to cut costs,” Hartman said. “That single event costs at least $5,000 to charter a boat to participate in the parade. Disappointing, because the OCTC boat is often a highlight of the parade for spectators, and I know it is a memorable opportunity for our youth performers.”
The theatre company, which leases a city-owned building at 1501 West Ave., has been home to countless entertainers from novice to veteran performers. City officials discussed the news of the struggling local theatre company during a Jan. 26 City Council meeting.
City Councilman Bob Barr said he learned of the theatre company’s difficulties, and he was very upset.
“The Ocean City Theatre Company announced some cuts to some of their programs for this year and going forward. That’s really sad,” Barr said adding that the theatre company provides a wonderful outlet for kids.
“I would ask to see what we could do more as a Chamber, as a city,” Barr said, referring to the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In response to Barr, Mayor Jay Gillian emphasized that the city is supportive of the theatre company. He added that the theatre company provides a healthy outlet for young people.
“I can tell you as a city, and me personally, we do everything we can for the theatre company,” Gillian said. “I was sad to see that, but I can tell you we are doing everything we can to keep them afloat. It is not just business; it is a mental health thing.”
Former Ocean City Councilman Michael DeVlieger said during the public comment portion at the Council meeting that like Barr and Gillian, he was saddened to hear of the OCTC’s financial troubles.
He suggested that perhaps people could purchase tickets to give as gifts to others if they can’t attend the theater events, which would in turn still generate the needed funds to help the nonprofit continue to operate successfully.
“I would do it just as a general citizen. Maybe put it out there that people can sponsor someone to go to some of these functions,” DeVlieger said. “I would spend $10 to send tickets to the primary school. We could create a pool where we buy some tickets and give them to these kids to go and see. Maybe it would inspire other kids to get into acting and theatre.”
“It is really about money. Let’s not see these kids get jammed up,” DeVlieger continued. “We should do whatever we can for the kids.”
Hartman said that on behalf of the OCTC Board of Directors and participants, he was thankful to Barr for bringing up the matter during the Council meeting.
“When we went public with the decision to scale back, Councilman Barr immediately reached out to see what he could do to help,” Hartman said. “He understands the value of a solid performing arts program for our community.”
Hartman said he would like to see the Ocean City Tourism Development Commission evaluate ways to market and highlight the cultural and arts opportunities in Ocean City.
“From the Pops Orchestra to the Historical Museum to the Art Center to OCTC, Ocean City is rich with organizations that cultivate a more well-rounded community and, ultimately, more revenue for our businesses and experiences to attract tourism,” Hartman said.
For anyone interested in helping out or getting involved, OCTC is gearing up for 2023 sponsorship opportunities and will be announcing critical fundraisers, such as the annual brunch scheduled for July 16.
OCTC is also looking for volunteers to assist in ushering, sewing in the OCTC costume shop, fundraising, being ambassadors at community events and other activities.
To learn more, follow @octheatreco on social media or visit oceancitytheatrecompany.com to subscribe to the newsletter.