Before Charma Bonanno was a development director, a financial manager, or a mom, she was an actor. She performed in theatres across the country, including several summers here in Weston as Velma Kelly in Chicago, Lucy Brown in The Three Penny Opera, and Prudie Cupp in Pump Boys and Dinettes, opening the Rod & Gun Club’s first season ever.
Technically, she’s been fundraising for Weston for a number of years as a volunteer and member of our theatre family. In her official capacity as Director of Development, Charma’s a trifecta–bringing business savvy, an engaging personality, and a tremendous passion for theatre, and for us, to the table.
Married to Broadway and Weston veteran David Bonanno, this Chicago girl is happy to call our little town home. She and David live right here in Weston with their son Angelo, and four-legged baby, River.
“We moved here from New York because we love the Playhouse; a change I’m not sure I’d have undertaken for just any institution.” She paused and smiled. “With the fabulous work Weston does, with its upward trajectory, and this tremendous community, I have to be honest; it’s a great privilege to be here.”
What is Development at Weston? “Development is basically fundraising and friend-raising. Ticket sales offset a certain amount of what we spend each year, between 55% and 60%,” she explains. “If we had to price tickets in line with our expenses, prices would be prohibitive and we’d be out of business.” And while she laughed, she wasn’t kidding.
“The goal in a nonprofit organization is to land the budget each year on zero, to bring in, and spend the same amount.” The Company’s recent strategic planning process with the DeVos Institute confirms that in spite of an ambitious production and outreach schedule, the operating budget is lean and mean. Start figuring in the “cost of materials to design and build sets and costumes, to hire and provide housing for directors, actors, designers, carpenters, scenic painters, and so on… And we rent the Playhouse, the Rod and Gun Club, and our scene shop.” Theatre is labor intensive, and the necessarily limited runs of a summer season in a rural area can’t possibly make up for all the costs. That’s where development enters the picture.
It’s about today, and tomorrow… And then there’s the future. (Eyes light up!) ““Our big project is, of course, is our campaign to build a new center for the arts including a year-round studio theatre at Walker Farm. We’ll always produce on the Main Stage at the Playhouse, but the studio theatre will be a convertible space that can be totally individualized for every show or event, providing a better complement to the Playhouse and allowing us to expand the season into May and October. And in the off-season, we’ll extend our Education and New Works programs and host a variety of community organizations and events. It’s all so exciting!”
Describe Your World. IIt’s a broad one. “There are several major spheres… We apply for grants from corporations, foundations, and national and state organizations like the NEA and the Vermont Arts Council throughout the year, though our main support comes from generous individuals. We would not survive without their support, which amounts to about 81% of what we raise.” She continued, “Regional businesses are fabulous partners with us too, helping to underwrite our productions. And then we produce a handful of special fundraising events, including concerts, David Sanger’s talk, and our Spring Gala.”
Who’s on your team? “I work very closely with (Producing Artistic Director) Steve Stettler, who is really responsible for building the development program at Weston. And I have a fantastic Development Committee, with board member and fundraising professional Claire Stern as the chair, which gives me invaluable feedback and support.”
“Abbey Harlow has just joined the theatre as (part-time) Development Associate, so she’s here with me at 703 Main. She has lots of fundraising experience at parallel organizations. And she’s passionate about the arts! General Management Assistant Jeremy Lupowitz, who worked with me as an administrative intern last summer, continues to contribute his talents to development. It’s a great team.”
The most exciting thing. “Well, there’s this extraordinary number to raise at the beginning of the year. And it’s daunting. We may come in under or over projections on some efforts. It’s like a roller-coaster ride, and I sometimes hold my breath. But by the end of that year, closing in on that goal is terribly exciting. What a victory!”
Describe a typical day? She laughs, again. Because there isn’t one. “Some days, we’re pouring through spreadsheets or writing a heartfelt narrative, some days preparing for an appeal. Others are spent talking and visiting with people in our theatre family. Those are the best days! When I get to hear what people think about the work we’re doing and what interests them most.”
Why do people give? “Some of it has to do with us. Some remember coming to the Playhouse as children and love that we are still around in our 80th season. They don’t want to see us go away. And some of it just has to do with supporting arts in a rural community. Some give because they love our education programs, which incidentally, begin in the elementary schools and involve students all the way through college.”
Why go to the theatre?
“Some might argue that people today are more isolated than ever. We’re on our ipads, we watch movies at home. But when you go to the theatre, you’re sharing an experience with the other audience members and the actors. You’re informing what happens on the stage. It’s not a flat experience.”
She knows this because she’s been on both sides of the curtain. “The audience participates in the performance and changes it utterly; any actor will tell you that when they do eight shows a week, each one is a little bit different. In each one, they are trying to take a journey and bring the audience with them. Seeing live theatre is unique. It’s not like a movie that has been ‘finished.’ The play is recreated with every performance, and when you are present, you have been a part of something that is different from any other performance.
Sometimes magic happens., and then you’re hooked for life.” How lucky we all are that Weston hooked Charma Bonanno. If you have a question, idea, or inspiration you’d like to share with our Development Team, or you just want to say hello, reach out to Charma by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.