Cakes for characters: Outlandish cupcake price raises awareness for actors

Cakes for characters: Outlandish cupcake price raises awareness for actors

Jay Pyette

December 18, 2009, by Joe Nickell, Missoulian

Late Friday morning, Rebecca Spohrman and Michelle Edwards danced at the edge of Higgins Avenue, waving cupcakes at passing vehicles. “They’re really delicious, I promise!” Spohrman chirped to a passing car. But the driver only honked and waved in response. In a little over an hour standing there, Spohrman and Edwards sold nary a cupcake to a passing driver.

Perhaps the tepid response had to do with the sign in Edwards’ hands: “SUPPORT LIVE THEATRE,” it read. “CUPCAKES $10,000.”

At a folding table nearby, Grant Olson had marginally better luck as he pitched his pricey products to bemused pedestrians.

“Are those really $10,000?” asked Betsy Perrin as she walked past.

“Yes,” said Olson. “But we’re taking offers.”

“OK,” replied Perrin. “I’ll buy a cupcake. Can I give you a dollar for it?”

“Sure,” laughed Olson.

The price tag on those cupcakes may have been facetious, but the need at Montana Actors’ Theatre is real, said Olson. The company, which manages and produces live drama at the Crystal Theatre, has lately set its sights on improving the production quality of the shows its presents.

But with $6,000 in monthly overhead to cover rent and heat at the Crystal, as well as a small staff, the company must either raise its ticket prices beyond the reach of most Missoula residents or find charitable donors to help subsidize its efforts.

“The quality of work we’re doing is comparable acting-wise to anything you’d see in Spokane or Seattle,” said Olson, the company’s artistic director. “But until we get more funding, our production values are lower. We aren’t interested in only playing to people who can afford $60 to $80 tickets like you’d pay in Spokane and Seattle; so we decided it was time to kick off some fundraising in Missoula.”

Olson, who directed and produced a glitzy production of “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Wilma Theatre this past October, said he’d like to bring that same level of production values to shows the company does at the much smaller Crystal. But doing so would likely increase his costs by more than $1,000 per production.

“I think we need to raise about $40,000 to really do what we aim to do over the course of the year,” said Olson. “I think people would be amazed by what that kind of support would bring to our productions.”

Hence the impromptu sidewalk bake sale.

Of course, Olson being Olson, the fundraiser was as much a theatrical stunt as it was an earnest effort to find someone willing to pay 10 grand for a cupcake – delicious as they were.

“We’re not professional fundraisers,” he said with a laugh, “we’re professional theatre people.”

Olson encouraged anyone interested in helping out – either with cash, or in-kind – to get in touch via the company’s Web site, www.mtactors.com. He said the company also plans to put together a Mardi Gras fundraiser this year.

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