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META closure threatens theatre resource EncoreMichigan.com

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Is it just me, or has the local theatre industry been a little too weird lately. “Weird,” as in the Weird Sisters from “MacBeth” – “When the hurlyburly's done,When the battle's lost and won…”

The theatre community has shown time and again that it’s willing to embrace change. Hey, it’s part of the whole theatre experience. But this summer has brought a whirlwind of unwelcome news. First our beloved Performance Network Theatre goes boom. Then Magenta Giraffe announces that it is phasing out its theatre program (and focusing on totally worthwhile endeavors) in the 2015 season. Gratefully, this one was a conscious decision by its founders to move on. And now META (Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance) has announced its own dissolution. Which leaves EncoreMichigan.com – which has covered the professional local theatre scene since 2008 – with no place to go. And that's not good for anybody, not even this journalist, who is above all a huge fan of local theatre.

In a carefully worded press release issued by EncoreMichigan.com, it was announced that META, at its June 25 board meeting, would close down operations effective July 1. And because EncoreMichigan.com was acquired by META as an independent affiliate in 2012 from Pride Source Media Group, it now finds itself in harm’s way.

META was formed in 2010 through a partnership between the Cultural Alliance for Southeast Michigan and the Michigan Non-Profit Association to function as a membership-based, non-profit service organization. It's purpose has been to promote and advocate for Michigan’s unionized professional theaters. Both META and Pride Source have pledged to assist in keeping EncoreMichigan.com alive.

Cofounder and executive director of EncoreMichigan.com Donald V. Calamia explains that he was notified of the closure shortly after the board meeting. “Our conversations so far have led to temporary, stop-gap solutions to keep us fully functioning and funded through at least the end of July. But after that? We haven’t a clue.”

With less than 48 hours since he was informed of the board’s decision, Calamia said there are three options currently being looked at. “The first is to find one, two or three major supporters and sponsors to underwrite EncoreMichigan.com, hopefully for the long-term. (The budget is between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.) The second is to find another non-profit to adopt us under a similar plan to which we operated under META. Or if that’s not possible, the third – and most time consuming, costly and difficult – is to create a new non-profit for EncoreMichigan.com, complete with a small working board, whose job it would be to fund raise and manage the financial operations of the company.” With that said, however, “We’ll listen to any and all suggestions and offers from anyone interested in helping us solve this puzzle.”

Despite META’s closure, users and members of EncoreMichigan.com will see no difference when they log onto the website throughout the month of July, Calamia said. “The site will still be updated daily, our critics will still be out reviewing shows throughout the state, and the calendar listings will still be current. From all external appearances, it will be business as usual.”

But behind the scenes? “It will be a madhouse,” he laughed.And after July 31? “That’s unknown territory at this point. But as of right now – barring any unforeseen circumstances, of course – my plan is to keep updating the site daily with press releases and calendar listings through the month of August. Luckily our membership year ends August 31 and we hadn’t begun soliciting for the new season. But with no budget to work with, the few commitments we have for August and beyond are on hold for now, and so we ask that our member theaters bear with us as we work through resolving this unexpected situation.”

If there is a silver lining in this storm cloud, it’s that Calamia plans to move forward with the 13th Annual Wilde Awards, scheduled for Sept. 22 at The Berman Center for Performing Arts in West Bloomfield and sponsored by Pride Source Media Group.

What are the “go forward” plans for EncoreMichigan.com? The future, like the Weird Sisters’ cauldron, is a bit murky right now. But Calamia is confident that somehow EncoreMichigan.com will remain online and fully serving ALL of the state’s professional theaters while continuing to expand its readership. “There’s nothing like us out there, and so to lose us would mean a valuable resource would be gone for good. We thank our member theaters, the theater community as a whole, and our readers for their continued support these past six years. And with their help, we can continue to provide a much needed service for many years to come.”

We hope you join us in supporting the hardworking staff of EncoreMichigan.com and hoping that the situation is resolved quickly and with good results. Feel free to add your comments, recommendations, or thoughts below. And continue to follow EncoreMichgan.com for updates.

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