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Opinion: Community help is needed to save theater

Published 1:02 am, Friday, June 18, 2010
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When the historic Fairfield Community Theatre closed its doors in April 2001, it was a crazy time for me. I was a very busy at work, was married for less than a year and was expecting my first child in June. Six months later, with no experience in the arts or film, I had taken over the lease on the Community Theatre. This action was not exactly on my wife's "to do" list at the time. Nine years later, I am now the proud parent of three children ... four if you count the theater.

The theater has been one struggle after another, but we always found a way to overcome the obstacles put in front of us. As many of you know, I have never taken a penny for my time commitment, nor will I ever. There has never been a day that I wish I hadn't started the nonprofit, as my life would be a lot easier, but I couldn't imagine Fairfield without it. Maybe I am alone in thinking that way, but I hope not.

Keeping the theater open has been a constant financial struggle. Even as an all-volunteer non-profit organization, it still costs more than $250,000 per year to operate the theater. Rent and electricity is more than $125,000 of that budget. Why not just raise the ticket prices? We have always tried our best to keep the cost of admission low so everyone in the community could enjoy attending the movies in downtown Fairfield. Raising the price of admission alone is not the answer. We have been struggling since day one, but have continued to create incredibly successful outreach programs that impact people in need ... we are not "just a theater." We need the financial support of our community to continue our work.

The point of this letter is to ask for your help. Please take the time to review our new website and see what exciting things we are doing. We have taken our lumps along the way, but have been able to create a unique organization of which we should all be proud. Other communities across the nation envy us. I know because they call me and ask how they can accomplish what we have accomplished. I am excited about our future. I am confident you will find our programs innovative, useful and inspiring. All of these programs would not exist if the theater was to close.

For most, it is simply a theater, but clearly our website shows it is much more than that. Why do more people not know about all the good work we are doing? I blame myself for that. I am not a self-promoter and quite frankly, it is not my full-time job. I prefer to create the programs, make an impact on the community and then ask you to kindly consider helping. I also do not like to bother people by asking for their help, but now is the time for the community to step forward and join me so we can keep the doors open. If we cannot raise a substantial amount of money soon, it will be clear to me that closing the theater may be the only option. It is time for our community to show that they want it to stay open and are willing to support us. If they are not willing, I cannot justify keeping the institute open.

Even if you know nothing about the programs we have, can you imagine the center of Fairfield without the historic Fairfield Community Theatre?

That is why I am asking everyone to get involved and help us. I want everyone to know that we need their financial support. I don't know everybody who lives here, so you can really help spread this message. If we fail, at least I will know that I asked everyone for their help. Then, if we must shut the doors, at least we know that it was not for lack of trying or that we failed to communicate the situation to the community.

There are many ways to help, but right now we simply need to raise money. We have created various levels of giving to make contributors comfortable. Please consider sending this e-mail to everyone you know at your children's school, your neighborhood, your company and everywhere else to ask them to contribute online today. We have created the Community Film Club as an incredible giving opportunity for friends to receive outstanding benefits for their financial commitment to the Institute.

The Community Film Institute is a treasure that has been instrumental in bringing vitality back to our downtown, but more importantly, has changed the lives of many people you know and even some you may never meet.

Thank you for listening and I appreciate you taking the time to review our website and make a contribution today.

Leo Redgate is the founder and president of the Community Film Institute, 1424 Post Road, Fairfield. For more information, visit http://communityfilm.org/filmclub/