Local theater uses Kickstarter to crowd-fund sound system


BENNINGTON -- The Oldcastle Theatre Company has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund its latest series of renovations, which they say will make the theater more accessible for all.

Since the theatre company moved to its current location, the former Knights of Columbus building on Main Street, in April 2012, it has been attempting to upgrade the space, said marketing director Jennifer Cullen. When Oldcastle opened the current location, said Cullen, most of the equipment was from the 1960s or earlier. Renovations were piecemeal at first; the theater would close after their last play of the weekend, work would be done, and then it would re-open the following Thursday.

The next thing on the company's list is the sound system, which Cullen says is from the 1980s. "The way technology is today, that might as well be 100 years old," she said, "We fool you. We make it sound like it's [a really good sound system,] but it's not."

The project would also include the installation of a hearing assistance system for the hard-of-hearing. "When you go to a play," said Cullen, "it's kind of important to hear the words."

Thanks to generous donations from the Bennington Lions and the Bennington Rotary Club, the total cost to the theatre company has been reduced from more than $14,000 to about $8,500. To raise that money, Cullen turned to the fundraising website, Kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter, which launched in 2009, is designed as a way to crowd-fund creative projects, such as films, games, music, and art. According to the website, since its founding, 6.5 million people have pledged $1 billion, providing funding to 64,000 projects. Project creators set a fundraising goal, in Oldcastle's case $8,500, and a deadline. Donors pledge to donate an amount, and if the total pledges reach or surpass the project's goal, the donors are charged and the project gets funded. If the project does not reach its goal, the donors are not charged, ensuring that there is no risk that their money go toward a project that doesn't get completed.

Oldcastle's Kickstarter has currently raised $2,145, just over 25 percent of their goal. The deadline for fundraising is Friday, July 18, at 9 a.m.

"Kickstarter is really good for quite a few reasons," said Cullen, "It has a global reach, so you can have donors from Bennington, Brattleboro, or Bangladesh." She said she chose Kickstarter over other fundraising websites because of its popularity and name value. Simply put, she said, it has the most "oomph." The site also allows users to sign in with the Amazon account, which many people already have.

Asked whether or not she was worried that the Kickstarter wouldn't meet its goal, she said, "I'm always worried. They pay me to worry. But, we have 900 fans on Facebook; if everyone of them pledged $5, we'd reach our goal." She did express worry that the theater's biggest fundraising season ended around March, so many of company's most consistent donors have already been tapped. However, she said, "Even if we don't make the $8,000, we'll find a way to raise the money somehow. We always do."

The theatre has been selling 50/50 raffle tickets at all of their shows to put toward the Kickstarter fundraising, and Cullen said that the raffles have been very successful, with most winners leaving with over $100. Many patrons have donated in person, via check, which she says can't count toward the Kickstarter goal, but will still go toward funding the project.

Anyone interested in helping Oldcastle reach their goal can visit Kickstarter.com. and search "Oldcastle" or click on the link at OldcastleTheatre.com. Cullen said that those wishing to help the theatre in other ways could volunteer to work in the box office or with costume design. "We're always looking for energetic volunteers," she said.

She added, "If one person can't come to our plays we haven't done our jobs, so we want to make the theater as accessible as possible."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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