Education & the Arts Attract Visitors to Beatrice: Community Players Makes a Large Impact
20 Aug 2020
Community Players is a live theatre and performing arts organization that draws visitors to Beatrice from 40 different communities. As a regional entertainment destination, individuals and families come to the theater for their six-show regular season, three-show family/youth series, and additional events throughout the year. “We are a source of pride – not just for the community as we consider ourselves to be the most active community theatre outside of Lincoln and Omaha, but for the nearly 200 people every year who volunteer on and off stage,” said Jamie Ulmer, Managing Artistic Director of Community Players.
As one of Nebraska’s leading arts organizations, Community Players contributes to the vibrant culture of Gage County while also bringing revenue into Beatrice. “Our work and programming is respected throughout the region. Beatrice is unique among all our peer communities in that we have a full-time live theatre located downtown, bringing audiences and volunteers from more than a 60-mile-radius. Those audiences make a big economic impact as well, eating, shopping, and buying gas. On average patrons at the theatre spend $38 per person in the community in addition to their ticket purchase. Having an active arts scene is essential to growing a community and making it an appealing place to live,” said Ulmer.
For locals, the organization serves as more than just an entertainment destination. Community Players creates opportunities to connect and learn. With educational and outreach programming, kids and adults have multiple opportunities to learn and grow - both on and off the stage. Many of the people participating in educational programs turn into volunteers. “We would not be here without community support. Our actors, volunteers, and donors all come from our community. That’s one of the great things about community theatre, it brings all backgrounds together for a common goal and bridges gaps and makes remarkable connections. That community support also includes local businesses and individuals who support our programming through donations, sponsorships, and advertising in programs,” said Ulmer.
Ulmer is most proud of the theater’s ability to bring people together. “We are a community gathering place. When people come to a show, they are meeting friends, seeing their neighbors, and sharing an experience at our downtown venue,” he said. Originally from Sutton, Nebraska, he understands the value of having a space dedicated to the arts that can bring the entire community together. “I was extremely fortunate to have a school system and community that strongly supported music and the arts and gave students a lot of opportunities to not only participate, but the freedom to take on self-driven leadership positions.” Ulmer took his love of the theater to Doane College (now University), graduating with degrees in Communications and Theatre, worked at the newspaper and joined Community Players. Ulmer has been with the thater for 24 years and is offering the same opportunities to Gage County residents who want to learn, grow and experience the joy of putting on a show.
Speaking of shows, a lot has changed during COVID-19 so we asked Jamie what his reopening plans are. He said, “Looking at reopening is a complicated question. While we were forced to close our physical doors to in person events in March, we made a very deliberate effort to never truly “go dark.” We cycled through two online engagement campaigns that included virtual discussion groups, a podcast mini-series, ramped up social media, and a pop-up community mural on the side of our building. We are now easing back into live rehearsals and performances, taking a lot of precautions and following safety guidelines. We specially are doing programming right now that has small casts and limited crews to minimize the number of people interacting in the building on a daily basis. For performances we have reduced capacity and are seating patrons with physical distancing, requiring all audience members to wear masks, thoroughly cleaning the building every day, and of course hand sanitizer dispensers are everywhere. When we can get the rights, we will make our live content available for online streaming. So far patrons who have returned have been very responsive, and expressed their appreciation of our mitigation efforts, but mostly they are just happy to be in an actual theatre again seeing live entertainment.”
Ulmer encourages people to come to their shows and to utilize the modified programming Community Players is offering. “The easiest way to make sure organizations like Community Players survive is to show up at the doors and participate. Watch a show, sign up to audition, volunteer to usher, and make a donation. These are great and easy ways to make sure Community Players survives the current crisis. If people don’t show up, we won’t be here.” And we want them to be here. Community Players has made a consistent impact on the community, both as a gathering place and as a tool for awakening our creative sides. We need the arts for ourselves and even for our economy. With people coming from 40 different communities to watch shows, the arts makes a positive impact on all our lives.