Drama Engulfed Virginia Children's Theatre As Roanoke Nonprofit Spent Beyond Means

“They were wanting to put on these big, lavish productions but not understanding the money that goes into that,” a former production manager said.

A scene from Virginia Children's Theatre's production of "James and the Giant Peach," which showed April 28-29 at Roanoke's Jefferson Center. PHOTO COURTESY OF VIRGINIA CHILDREN'S THEATRE

Virginia Children’s Theatre spent money on lavish musical productions despite early signs the Roanoke nonprofit did not have the funds to do so, according to internal records obtained by The Rambler.

Citing inflation and the end of government pandemic relief money, VCT on June 6 announced an “emergency fundraiser” with the goal of raising $100,000 from the community by the end of August. Two weeks ago, the theater said the Blacksburg-based Secular Society would commit up to $50,000 in one-to-two matching donations.

While the theater described the financial struggles as coming on suddenly, VCT lost more than $142,000 in income for the fiscal year ending August 2022, according to a profit and loss statement. Last season, the theater put on “Beauty and the Beast” and “James and the Giant Peach,” which together lost more than $57,000, records show.

“They were wanting to put on these big, lavish productions but not understanding the money that goes into that,” said Kenzie Conner, a former production manager who worked from 2021 until last month. “They were getting so lost in the spectacle of it all and the desire to make it such a splashy moment that they just kind of chucked the financial aspects of it down the road.”

In recent months, the theater has failed to pay actors and other workers on numerous occasions; laid off staff; and even explored whether to shut down or merge with another organization, records show. VCT canceled touring of its “James and the Giant Peach” production a month early when “the actors decided that they were no longer willing to perform due to the uncertainty of when they would be paid,” according to board meeting minutes.

The theater’s producing artistic director, Brett Roden, submitted his resignation on May 16 to the board. Theater leaders announced the news Sunday after The Rambler asked about it Friday. Roden told The Rambler his decision was not connected to the theater’s financial situation.