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, she’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. “Overall, the goal of a nonprofit organization is to land the budget each year on zero. To bring in and spend the same amount.” 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 we rent the Playhouse and our scene shops.”
“Our newest addition is, of course, Walker Farm. A stunning studio theatre, Walker is a convertible space that can be individualized for every show or event, providing a better complement to the Playhouse and allowing us to expand the season. This year we’re producing into the fall with our fourth annual American Masters work, August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. In the off-season, we’re able to extend our Education and New Works programs and host a variety of community organizations and events. To help support the ambitious program, Weston’s board has launched a brand new initiative, The Ewen-Fort-Stettler Fund for the American Theatre.
How do you “make it happen?” “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.”
Teamwork. “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.”
Ride the Roller Coaster. “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!”
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 82nd 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 we need 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 you’re hooked for life.” How lucky we are that Weston hooked this fabulous mama.