The Embassy Theatre: A Story of Community Support Driving Impact and Longevity

Donations Requested for the Raise the Curtain Campaign

Fort Wayne, Ind. (Dec. 14, 2020) – The Embassy asks the community for generosity in support of the impact the Embassy makes on the community as a source of arts and cultural experiences. The Raise the Curtain campaign aims to shepherd the organization through the adversity that the pandemic has delivered in 2020. The 92-year-old theater anticipates a challenging 2021 as well until a vaccine is widely released, and patrons feel comfortable returning to familiar and beloved gathering places.

A Snapshot of 2020

The Embassy Theatre concluded the 36th annual Festival of Trees on December 6, one of the region’s most anticipated holiday traditions and the organization’s largest fundraising event, which supports ongoing operational and restoration efforts for the Embassy Theatre Foundation. The patrons, sponsors and decorators showed up with enthusiasm. However, there was a marked impact from this unprecedented year: attendance was down from more than 22,000 last year to about 4,600, and funds raised were cut in half compared to 2019, primarily due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions. The organization is offering a virtual tour ticket to assist with funding and bring the event to residents near and far who were uncomfortable or unwilling to attend in person.

The organization has been fortunate this year. Amidst closures of local businesses and peer organizations across the country going ‘dark,’ the Embassy has been able to find creative ways to pivot and adjust to stay open and serve the northeast Indiana community’s needs. In addition to the annual Festival of Trees and Summer Nights series, study trips educational programming adapted to virtual for distance learning. Collaboration with fellow arts organizations resulted in hosting the Civic Theatre’s Annie, Cinema Center’s Hobnobben Film Festival and Three Rivers Music Theatre’s Cabaret Series to name a few. Also, it was able to offer an in-person and virtual Broadway event and the annual Marquee fundraiser that brought Adam Pascal to the Embassy stage.

Why Raise the Curtain Is Necessary

The organization is not just an arts and entertainment nonprofit, there is a significant cost to keeping a large historic building open and operational. And, despite the programming innovation and thoughtful local collaborations, the loss of stage activity from touring companies has hit the organization hard and will continue to through the first half of 2021. A loss of touring revenue, in combination with local events and programs that have been rescheduled or canceled, has resulted in the following:

  • Fiscal year 2019-20 budget loss of more than $1 million
  • Theater closed to public events for 83 days
  • A 78% reduction in theater seating capacity with social distancing protocols in place
  • Anticipation of an additional $700,000 loss during the 2020-21 fiscal year
  • Reduced philanthropic contributions and memberships from individuals

The Raise the Curtain campaign seeks to offset the lost revenue and expenses incurred as a result of COVID-19. With a goal of $2 million, this campaign will ensure the Embassy is financially strong and able to present impactful arts experiences for all of northeast Indiana.

Walter Thomas (Tommy) Smith, current Embassy board member and dean, Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Manchester University – “The campaign is significant to me personally, as I attend countless productions and events each and every year. Attending live theater and concerts feeds my soul and is essential to my well-being. It allows me to put my worries aside for a couple of hours and immerse myself in another world. Amazingly, I always leave a production joyful and clear-headed. The Embassy is unrivaled in the diversity of programming it offers and in its ability to attract marquee talent from the region and across the country. In addition, the variety of educational programs the Embassy provides for area students is unique. Exposing kids to the arts at an early age instills a sense of creativity, teaches them about other cultures and the value of celebrating our differences and sparks joy.”

History of Community Support

The Embassy has worked through struggles in its past. During the early 1970s, a handful of community leaders and volunteers, led by Robert Goldstine, banded together to form the Embassy Theatre Foundation to protect the building for the good of the community and preserve the home of the Grande Page Pipe Organ. Through the efforts of these volunteers and the support of a caring community, the successful ‘Save the Embassy’ campaign raised the $250,000 necessary to rescue the building from demolition with just two days to spare.

After the building was saved, the work really began. Volunteers kept the Embassy alive by feeding coal bought with their own money into furnaces to keep the pipes from freezing. Efforts to fix the leaking roof and clean coal dust from the terra-cotta walls and lobbies continued.

In 1985, the Embassadors, the former name for Embassy volunteers, established the first Festival of Trees, which raised $46,000, which was used to restore and renovate the front lobby entrances.

In 1995, a major renovation of the Embassy included expanding the stage to bring the theatre up to the modern standards required by large-scale touring companies. The theatre seats were upgraded, creating a seating capacity of 2,471. The renovation also included a facelift for the Indiana Hotel lobby and mezzanine, allowing the space to be used for social events. The renovation restored the stage and hotel to its former grandeur, once again making the Embassy the showplace of northern Indiana.

Jolynn Suko, current Embassy board member and senior vice president, Neurosciences and Virtual Health, Parkview Health“It was the community that saved the Embassy in the 1970s, and in 2020, it will be the community that helps us remain strong and vibrant amidst this challenging year. I love the memories I’ve made there. From taking my daughter to Festival of Trees each year, to attending the Marquee event and getting to hear Broadway up close, to seeing my daughter perform on stage. It is a historic venue with a great history. It has been especially meaningful in 2020: seeing Adam Pascal in a socially distanced way was a highlight of the year. I’m also honored to serve on a board that has made commitments to honoring diversity this year and has made this venue a safe space to convene important conversations.”

Moving Forward and Asking for Help

The Embassy released its racial equity statement July 1 after social unrest took the country – and Fort Wayne – by storm. The organization felt a duty as a corporate citizen to offer the community its resources by reaching out to leaders and people of color to offer a bridge, safe harbor and gathering space to develop a healthier and more compassionate future. For a year, it is waiving basic rental and equipment fees for local organizations that wish to use the facility for events focused on the advancement of racial equality and community healing through education and respectful dialogue. It was important for the Embassy to be a part of change in this city.

As a historical building, center for arts and culture and education, and as a place to showcase both local and national talent, the Embassy brings life to this community. Visitors to Fort Wayne are drawn to it. Residents attend with frequency. Members offer ongoing support. Large donors help complete massive projects so that the Embassy can remain the crown jewel of Fort Wayne. This has all taken a hit in 2020. The Embassy wants to reiterate that no gift is too small or insignificant. As history shows, foundation volunteers sold cheese slices as a fundraiser in the 1970s. Likewise, children donated change from their piggy banks to help save the building. Every little bit helps meet the goal.

Ways to support the Embassy:

  • Gift to Raise The Curtain campaign: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=HTT5X5ABETPBN
  • Membership (monthly giving option available)
  • Annual donation or one-time gift
  • Financial or resource support of specific initiatives such as our window restoration project
  • Volunteerism and advocacy to encourage others to support

Whitney Bandemer, past Embassy board chair and current chair of the Raise the Curtain Taskforce  “The Embassy is a historic and beautiful space. It’s a stunning venue for Broadway shows. It has visionary staff leading the historic theatre into the future, diverse programming, and inspiration. The community saved this theater, and in response, the theater gives a little something special to each patron or educational program participant. The Embassy is the community.”

If you’d like to help the Embassy during this difficult time, please contact Lucas Weick, chief philanthropy officer at lucas@fwembassytheatre.org or at 260.424.6287

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