'Back the Bard': Fundraiser set up for Wheaton's Shakespeare in the Park

Organizers for Wheaton's Shakespeare in the Park event have started an online fundraiser in hopes of drawing financial support from the hundreds of community members who attend the outdoor theater production each year.

When Shakespeare in the Park was started by the Wheaton Park District and Wheaton College three years ago, organizers weren't sure what to expect.

"We didn't know if 50 people would show up," said Andy Mangin, director and producer of Wheaton College's Arena Theater.

To their surprise, more than 1,000 people piled into Memorial Park for the first show.

Both years, over the course of two days, between 2,000 and 2,500 theatergoers have come to watch Wheaton College students working alongside alumni actors. This year's production, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," will begin at 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 and 29.

From the beginning, organizers have been intent on offering free admission for everyone. Their hope is to keep it that way, but Wheaton Park District officials recently announced the current funding model is "simply not sustainable."

Carey Moreland, the park district's marketing and development assistant, said expenses for the production, including sound, lighting, staging, costumes and professional actors, amount to about $40,000 a year. The park district and Wheaton College are each responsible for half the cost.

"We're fine on our side, but the park district, as you add programs, the money has to come from somewhere," Mangin said. "It's not like Taste (of Wheaton), where revenue is being generated."

Donation baskets have been set up in the park during past performances, but Mangin said it's "not a great way to raise the kind of funds that we need."

About a month ago, a GoFundMe page was set up at with the goal of raising $5,000 for this year's event. Mangin said he doesn't expect a huge response at first, but the idea is to let people know there is a lot of time and money that goes into the production and donations will help keep the event alive in future years.

There are a variety of benefits for donors of different levels this year. Anyone who donates $25 will receive an event poster signed by the cast and a subscription to the DuPage County Historical Museum and Wheaton College Arena Theater newsletters.

Donations of $50 or more include an invite for one to attend a Meet the Cast reception from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 26, at Emmett's in downtown Wheaton. Guests are invited to watch a dress rehearsal in the park after the event.

Donors giving $100 receive an annual individual membership to the DuPage County Historical Museum and a beverage and popcorn during a Shakespeare in the Park performance. Donations of $500 result in two beverages and popcorn, along with two season tickets to Wheaton College Arena Theater and $1,000 donors get four beverages and popcorn, four season tickets for Arena Theater and an invitation for two to the DuPage County Historical Museum Foundation's preview event for a new exhibit, "Wedding Traditions Unveiled," on Oct. 16.

"It's really about bringing cultural arts to our community," Moreland said. "It's an opportunity for everybody, and we have a great space."

For the past two years, about 2,500 people have attended the free Shakespeare in the Park productions in Wheaton's Memorial Park. Organizers are now asking for financial support from the community to help pay for the $40,000 event. Courtesy of the Wheaton Park District
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