By: Rebekah Voss 8/31/12
For the past fifteen years, Shakespeare by the Sea has been offering admission-free outdoor theatre to audiences throughout the Los Angeles area. Founded in 1998 by the company’s Artistic Director Lisa Coffi, SBTS is a nonprofit organization that strives to blend history and education with the romance of watching theatre under the stars. In order to reach out to a younger demographic, Coffi hires non-union professional actors and recent college graduates. By casting actors in their late teens and early twenties, the company is able to avoid the higher expenses of working with more established union actors. They also give up-and-coming performers a chance to cut their teeth on major leading roles in Shakespeare’s canon – opportunities they might be overlooked for elsewhere in the competitive Los Angeles market.
Armed with a cast and crew of fresh, eager performers, Coffi and her creative team are able to provide public Shakespeare performances at absolutely no cost to the audience. Production expenses are offset through advertisers, who are eager to support a summer tour that reaches thousands of Los Angeles and South Bay residents. At the beginning of the summer, actors are guaranteed a small monetary stipend for each performance – cash that is donated by appreciative audience members during the show’s intermission. Additional funds are accumulated during the year through ticket sales at San Pedro’s Little Fish Theatre, and an outreach program that allows young actors to teach Shakespeare in local schools.
The success and longevity of SBTS can be attributed to the organization’s innovative approach to giving. By ensuring that audiences from all cultural and economic backgrounds have equal access to live entertainment, Coffi encourages her cast and crew to give of their time as well. Each cast member, no matter their role in the show, is required to arrive at each performance over two hours before the curtain rises. Sets are assembled from scratch each night, with both male and female performers hammering away until they’ve built themselves an impressive pulpit on which to set their scene. A feeling of camaraderie and service pervades the organization’s activities, and seems to encourage generosity of both its members and community businesses. Through the years, Coffi has acquired big name sponsors like Target, Union Pacific, and the Los Angeles City Department of Parks and Recreation.
Shakespeare by the Sea is an innovative nonprofit organization because they began by giving to their community before asking for anything in return. Many of the cast and crew involved in SBTS come back to the organization summer after summer because they enjoy being a part of what is, in essence, true community service. The actor’s salaries don’t amount to much more than gas money, but the true reward comes from bringing Shakespeare to communities and families that might never be exposed to it otherwise. Providing an authentic opportunity for young people to give of themselves in a meaningful way is a great place for any nonprofit looking to grow their youth community to begin. The young company working for SBTS proves that the digital generation need not be enticed to the nonprofit world by lots of money or flash, but by an authenticity of spirit.
For more information on Shakespeare by the Sea, visit www.shakespearebythesea.org