The week before a play’s opening, most theaters work overtime to fine-tune performances and get the word out to potential audiences. But the week and a half before the premiere of Auxiliary Dog Theatre’s production of Wonder of the World found the theater dealing with an additional imperative: keep the doors open.
Founder and Managing Director Eli Browning calls it the Save Aux Dog campaign. “It’s very real,” he notes. “We had a little bit of a scare this week that nearly shut us down. A lot of unexpected things hit all at the same time.”
The three-year-old Nob Hill theater found itself having to replace its heating system at the end of 2009. More recently, the fire marshal required the organization to install vehicle impact protection posts in the alley. And the capper: The insurance on the building doubled “almost without warning,” Browning says. “If our policy had lapsed, it would have been game over, man.”
For a theater that’s struggled financially since the beginning, the costs have proved overwhelming. “It’s tough,” Browning says of any effort to keep a creative nonprofit open during a recession. But he also points out that, at the very outset, Aux Dog had its challenges. “When we first opened our doors, there were five of us,” he explains. By the opening of the theater’s second show, only Browning was left. “That was not really the plan,” he admits. “So, obviously, there was a lot of difficulty at the very beginning.”
“I’ve been telling everybody the same thing: Come and buy a ticket and see the show and tell everyone you know the same thing. If we sell 1,000 tickets, we’ll breathe a lot easier at the end of the month.”
But he and a growing group of actors, directors and other thespian folk did manage to keep the theater open. In the process, Browning has drained his personal savings account and his 401k is “a little smaller than it was, but what it allowed us to do is open the damn show.”
The damn show is Wonder of the World (what Browning calls “one of the biggest, funniest shows we’ve ever put together”), and it’s the center of Save Aux Dog. The mission of the campaign is to sell 1,000 tickets to the show in May. Browning says people have already bombarded him with questions, asking him how they can help. “I’ve been telling everybody the same thing,” he says. “Come and buy a ticket and see the show and tell everyone you know the same thing. If we sell 1,000 tickets, we’ll breathe a lot easier at the end of the month.”
Browning says that Aux Dog’s survival isn’t just good for the immediate players involved, but for all theater in Albuquerque. “It’s a really great and diverse theater community, and we’re certainly happy to be a part of it,” he says. “I think that the more success theater in general has at the different venues and different companies, the better it is for the community at large.”
As Browning sees it, the group was on its way to being successful, making the timing of this crisis particularly onerous. He points out that the theater has been in the process of altering the way in which it is managed and organized. A nonprofit consultant has been working to help put together a board and look for sources of funding. “It feels like we’re just on the cusp of everything,” Browning says, and he feels that if he and his theater can “get over this last little hump,” they’ll find themselves in a better position than ever before.
“The fact that we’re still here at all is kind of amazing,” he laughs. “The thing that I love about this place, the thing that makes it so hard to walk away, is that we kind of expect to do the impossible on a regular basis. Some of the stuff we’ve accomplished in the past three years ... each milestone seems like a miracle. And if we’re able to have a successful Save Aux Dog campaign, it will be another miracle, which is kind of what we’re all expecting.”