News Column

Blacksburg's Lyric Theatre celebrates its crowd-funding success

June 16, 2013


June 16--The Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg was struggling to raise funds to pay for its new digital projection system. So the nonprofit broke with traditional methods to test the waters of Internet crowd-funding.

In May, the Lyric launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 for its digital upgrade. The Kickstarter website allows a creator to pitch a project and ask people to pledge money to make it happen.

It turned out to be the right move. The movie theater's Kickstarter had raised $58,561 when it ended on June 9. Even given that Kickstarter and Amazon together charge processing fees of up to 10 percent, the theater still made more than its goal.

"We are delighted by the response. It really jumped," Lyric executive director Susan Mattingly said.

By my reckoning, that total sets a new Southwest Virginia record for fundraising through Kickstarter, surpassing the $54,205 raised in 2012 by young Blacksburg entrepreneurs Josh Milas and Alex Obenauer to launch their Mail Pilot email client program.

Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler, who grew up in Blacksburg, was one of the campaign's supporters.

The Lyric's digital projection system, which is already in place, cost $120,000. The theater's appeal to businesses in the Blacksburg area and to its membership manag ed to raise about $50,000. The Lyric had money saved that it could use to make up the difference, but doing that could have left the theater without funds to spare for other issues.

"We have a leaky roof as we speak," Mattingly said Monday.

Theater officials decided to expand the appeal for funds through Kickstarter, hoping for success at the grass roots level . Offering rewards such as free movie passes for an entire year, the theater received donations from 935 backers who hail from all over the United States.

"That's really wonderful to feel like you have that kind of broad community support," Mattingly said.

She noted that some of the backers were high school students who volunteer at the theater. "To me, that was just really great."

The Lyric also received about $10,000 more from supporters who didn't want to send the money through Kickstarter, she said.

The digital system still isn't completely paid off, but it's close enough. "Our push is about done for the digital cinema, but there's always things we need," Mattingly said.

Fighting Gravity funded

Speaking of successful Kickstarters based in Blacksburg, the group of Pi Kappa Alpha brothers from Virginia Tech who form the black-light illusion troupe Fighting Gravity raised $51,470 in May, providing seed money to start them down the path to a full-length stage show in New York.

Fighting Gravity competed in NBC's "America's Got Talent" in 2010 as a lark and ended up placing third. Over the next couple of years, the group performed on television with the likes of Far East Movement, and Jennifer Lopez.

The ultimate prize the winners compete for on "America's Got Talent" is a full-length solo show in Las Vegas. Almost three years later, the men of Fighting Gravity have not yet performed a full-length show -- they've mostly performed shows of 15 to 20 minutes at private or corporate events. The Kickstarter was aimed to give them the resources for the eventual creation of a 60- to 90-minute show, said troupe members Rob Grimm, 22, and Jordan Powers, 23.

Unlike the Lyric Theatre's Kickstarter, which made its funding goal a week early, Fighting Gravity's path to the $50,000 goal was a nail-biter. On May 12, with almost $20,000 still to go, the troupe announced that if the campaign reached $40,000 a single supporter had promised to donate the final $10,000. The Kickstarter reached $40,000 on May 20, the campaign's final day.

While $50,000 isn't enough to actually fund a show in the Big Apple, the money allows them to conduct workshops in New York to develop new stage stunts and pitch the show to potential investors, Powers said.

Despite all their showbiz experience, exploring a New York show is new turf for Fighting Gravity. "It's definitely a more complex process than we thought it would be," Powers said.

'New Girl' revival

The final play performed at Studio Roanoke, before the theater shut down for good in 2012, was Samantha Macher's "To The New Girl From The Former Mrs. ______: Sound Advice for My Husband's New Wife or Mistress."

The play consists of a series of 10 monologues by 10 jilted women from many different walks of life, and has been praised by reviewers in Roanoke and Los Angeles.

If you missed it the first time, or loved it and want to see it again, you have a rare opportunity in store.

"New Girl" will be performed 7:30 p.m. July 13 at the Bower Center for the Arts in Bedford. The performance features the exact same cast from the Studio Roanoke production, and the same director, Cheryl Snodgrass. Proceeds benefit the Bedford Domestic Violence Services.

The event's title is as long as the play's: "To The New Girl at The Bower Center: A Night to Benefit Bedford Domestic Violence Services."

Two years ago, in memory of her mother, cast member Melissa Kennedy founded the Carolyn B. Kennedy Memorial Women's Closet, a clothing closet maintained by BDVS that helps women with limited resources who need work clothes.

Kennedy wrote in a Facebook message that the new performance of "New Girl" was set in motion by a chance meeting with Macher. "I ran into the playwright one of the last times that she was in town and she mentioned that she'd happily donate rights to the show if it was to benefit a women's group."

Kennedy pitched the idea to the BDVS staff. "They were thrilled beyond words."

Tickets, which include hors d'oeuvres , are $15 in advance or $20 at the door. As of Tuesday, the organizers needed to sell 10 more advance tickets to cover the costs of the production, with all subsequent sales to benefit the shelter. For tickets and more information, visit

Documentary screening

Friday is Global Awareness Day for Lou Gehrig's Disease. In recognition of that, Hollins University Graduate Screenwriting & Film Studies will screen "I Am Breathing" at 7 p.m. in Niederer Auditorium in the university's Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center.

The film chronicles the final months of Neil Platt, a 34-year-old father who learns he has Lou Gehrig's. The screening is free. For more information on the film, visit

Attic feedback

Fincastle-based theater Attic Productions is seeking public feedback on the types of productions audience members would like to see. Visit to fill out the online form.

On the Arts blog

See a gallery of People's Choice Award winners from the Jacksonville Center for the Arts juried show at


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