By Mike Guilford
Since 1995, the Frank Guaracini Fine and Performing Arts Center has entertained the community with dazzling shows in its mission to bring quality performances to Cumberland.
At the end of August 2017, that mission could be in jeopardy as non-academic performances for the 2017-2018 year have been placed on indefinite hiatus. The future for the Luciano Theater is unknown.
All is not lost, Deborah Bradshaw’s stellar sellout offerings will continue as academic programming would not be impacted. Scheduled for a November debut, Bradshaw’s production of Godspell is sure to dazzle audiences, with its messages of kindness, love and peace and a parade of hits like “Day by Day” and “Learn Your Lessons Well.”
However, she will do so without support of Assistant Director of Theater Programming, Christopher Totora, who served as Technical Director since 2004. Totora will continue his career as Technical Director at the Mandell Theater in Philadelphia. The decision to place future programs on hiatus was made in conjunction with Totora’s departure by campus administrators, however, the program has been in jeopardy for several years now as programming failed to make a profit. Continual decline in enrollment, annual shortfalls in budget for the performing arts, lack of awareness; the program was already primed for the chopping block. Running a skeleton crew of volunteers and part-time staff the program was left with no fat to trim to stay afloat, despite departures from the box office manager and Totora.
Things have changed since the program’s inception 20 years ago. Competition from renovated theaters such as the Levoy in Millville, 8 miles from the Luciano, as well as the renewal of Landis Theater in downtown Vineland act as stiff competition for a theater situated almost equidistant from two rivals.
Also, down the road from the Luciano Theater, is the Cumberland Players, within a short 10 mile radius of the Luciano theater are three competitors vying for limited patron’s attention with similar content.
In a perfect world, an oversaturation of the arts would be seen as a boon and business would be booming, unfortunately things don’t always work out the way they should. As theater managers at Luciano reported difficulty even giving tickets away to patrons.
It’s tough to point toward a single cause for the discontinuation of programming but the lack of public interest could point toward one culprit: limited marketing.
Given limited amount of public attendance and the success of other programs in the area, it would be reasonable to speculate that awareness of the programs existence was limited at best.
The original mission of the theater was to attract people with quality programming who wouldn’t normally visit. Volunteers, working for the theater act as advocates, bringing visitors to campus promoting CCC.
Children were bussed in frequently from schools to experience the wonder of theater. Director of theater programming at the Luciano Theater, Beatrice Hughes, remarked on the impressions of children coming to the theater for the first time; “The doors opened and their expressions were just WOW! before the show even began.”
Hughes mentions how she will miss seeing their cute faces on campus. The program was a great tool to attract younger generations of students to CCC. It showed what they’d have available as they grew, promoting college accessibility through the arts.
The college plans to reevaluate the future of the FPAC program during the 2017-2018 year, to see if there is a new direction it could take.
Without private funders to help buttress the program; as other theater programs in the county have access to, it may be difficult for the college to shoulder the burden of operating the theater alone, leaving the future of the College’s theater program unknown.