SEBRING — Highlands County is very fortunate to have Highlands Lakeside Theater, our very own community theater that is an example of innovation, class and so much talent.

As we all know, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for theaters that need community support and donations to survive. Some theaters, like HLT, have reopened to limited capacity. Others are offering only virtual performances and still others are not going to open until next year, if they can hold on that long.

HLT is trying desperately to hang in there. “We not only have to be creative in presenting shows, we have had to ramp up our fundraising efforts and get a loan to try and stay even,” said Vanessa Logsdon, HLT’s theater manager. “It usually takes 75% of ticket sales just to meet our financial obligations.”

So many things are part of the costs in putting on shows: paint, fabric, construction materials, props, office supplies, advertisements and much more. This does not include other costs including licensing fees.

“We have beefed up our sanitizing procedures to keep our patrons safe,” said Carole Schafmeister, board member and building and maintenance chair. “Our theater provides the opportunity for our patrons to enjoy our shows in-person in a safe environment.”

According to Tom Staik, board vice president and reopening chair, “The last six months have been concurrently the most terrifying and exhilarating experience that I have had at the theater. Some very hard decisions had to be made in rapid succession.”

The “Marvelous Wonderettes” opened in June instead of March.

“COVID-19 personally affected me as an actor,” said Anna Schmidt, actor and board member. “When we had to push the show back (‘Marvelous Wonderettes’) I was devastated. I completely understood why we were closing down, and that when we were to perform in June everything would be different.”

The June show, “Oliver,” was pushed to next season.

“This decision was not easy and meant we guaranteed losing at least one-fifth of our income by removing one of our five shows from the season,” Staik said.

Will the loyal patrons all return in the fall? While that is what is hoped for, studies show that they may not return in full force until there is a vaccine. Logsdon says they will continue to innovate and to apply for any and all grants available. All donations are greatly appreciated.

“Though it’s definitely been a stressful and uncertain time, we are so grateful for an extremely generous $50,000 donation to help ease some of the financial burdens that the closure and capacity restrictions have caused,” Margaret Macbeth said.

An inexpensive way to help HLT is to purchase a membership. Adult memberships are $15 for an individual, $35 for a family and $50 for corporate. Visit highlandslakesidetheater.org/general-information for a full list of benefits and how to join.

“Facing limited income for any show due to reduced seating, we embarked on finding a way to provide a video stream. We invested what little money we had and purchased equipment that allowed us to broadcast a livestream of the show,” Staik explained.

“We didn’t know if the holder of the rights of the show would grant us a modification of the contract. The rights did come through and we were able to offer livestreaming as an option.”

Livestreaming is an option that is only available for some shows at this time.

Olivia Scott is the treasurer of the HLT Foundation. “From my perspective as the treasurer, once the lockdown was announced, HLT’s income went to $0. Financially we had been doing very well. Our bills continued to arrive, but there was no income.”

Logsdon and HLT President Jennifer Westergom have been working very hard to create fundraising ideas and events that are fun as well as safe to participate in.

“I thought we could put together a fundraiser that would give the theater a little income until the next show,” Westergom said.

She and her team of volunteers hosted ‘Mask-A-Rade’ a few weeks ago. It was a great event where attendees wore masks, enjoyed entertainment, participated in a competition and silent auction, all in a safe environment while social distancing.

The theater has made the decision to replace the Moonlight, Martinis and Meatballs event this year with a virtual fundraiser.

“We’re planning a Pajama Party, which you can attend from your location in your pajamas,” Logsdon said. “We’re planning to include performances from HLT favorites, a live auction, a virtual wine pull, VIP party kits and much more. Get your party pajamas ready and watch for the announcement.”

They are also holding a Reverse Raffle for a gently used Mini Cooper. Rules and regulations can be found on their website. The drawing will be held Nov. 8th.

Everyone is pulling together to keep the theater as an entertainment venue for the community for years to come. This is a trying time and residents still do not know what the ‘new normal’ is.

To make a donation to support HLT, visit their website at highlandslakesidetheater.org and click on “Contribute.”

The next show is “The Adams Family,” which runs from Aug. 21 to Sept. 6.

“Looking forward to 2021, I would love to open at full capacity and get back ‘our normal’ of entertaining Highlands County,” Westergom said.