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Nonprofit Impact Stories

Near West Theatre | SVP Saved My Life

July 9, 2007

Author: Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, Executive Director, Near West Theatre
Read about SVP’s impact with Near West Theatre here.

It was in November, 2002 when our board consultant Thomas Mulready—now known for his work with Cool Cleveland—looked me in the eye having worked with me for 4 months and said, “Stephanie you need to get a vision for yourself.” I took those words to heart, deeply disturbed at the implication of Thomas’ advice and perspective.

At that juncture, I had a part-time development person. I was deeply embroiled in all the development activities; I was driving all the funding development except for the benefit event. Our fiscal operations were outsourced at a cost of over $14,000 annually, and the information was not as accessible as I needed it to be.

I had an appreciation for our board but did not understand the preciousness of every seat and that they should be the FIRST to step to the plate as ambassadors and in providing leadership gifts.

Our offices were housed in one room, and there simply was no room in the inn for me or my development person. So the office had our business manager and a part-time marketing sales person and often a volunteer from AARP getting training from our business manager.

Individual giving was at $59,000. There were no special cultivation activities—there was NO TIME to cultivate!

Fortunately, the mission was strong. The programs were strong.  The vision hadn’t changed from the first summer in 1978 when I was hired to start Near West Theatre (NWT) and had the vision of using the theatre arts to engage young people in something that would both inspire their growth and participation as well as inspire adults who could see young people as contributing members rather than as delinquents.

My vision was to create a theatre where every one and anyone interested is invited to participate and to offer something meaningful to the community regardless of skill level, previous experience, or economic status. That vision of inclusion has been consistent and is still central to our artistic vision today; we now have five productions a year with a minimum of 40 in a cast and as many as 75 onstage and scores of young people working in the wings and in the balcony to support the productions. And we maintain accessibility to the experience of a Broadway-scale production at the cost of $6.

I don’t believe that I formulated that vision that Thomas asked me about, but I do believe in my bones that the universe heard my prayers, and I was sent the support of SVP in Cleveland and the angel (sometimes wrestling angel) and team leader, Kevin Shaw…. 

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