With a passion for theater and a head for business, Lauren Morris is helping Georgia Shakespeare get back on healthy financial footing.
When Morris arrived at Georgia Shakespeare in November, things weren’t looking good.
The theater company was in the midst of a Hail-Mary fundraising campaign to keep its doors open, and Morris was hired as the managing director to help Georgia Shakespeare do a financial turnaround.
Georgia Shakespeare was able to raise more than $500,000 with a plea to supporters last year. At the time, the theater said it would close if it couldn’t raise the money. Six months later, the theater has made a lot of progress, Morris said.
“We were sort of overwhelmed by the support that came from the community,” Morris said. “That has allowed us to pay off some debt and allowed us to operate through the end of January.”
Morris said she has been focusing on “innovating for profitability.”
She said she views the nonprofit as a Venn Diagram, an image created by overlapping circles, with one circle representing the theater group’s programs that do not generate any money and another circle representing profitable activities.
“What we want is all of our activities to be serving the mission and we want them to overlap as much as possible within that profitability circle,” Morris said. “That is, to a great extent, motivating everything we do.”
For example, this year the organization revamped its Shakespeare in the Park production in Piedmont Park. The free performance of “The Tempest” was staged in a larger area of the park, and patrons had the option to pay to reserve seats ahead of time.
“Now we can serve twice as many people,” Morris said. “So that’s really exciting for us. It used to be a break-even event for us, but now it can be something that can help us fund our other activities.”
Morris said the Board of Trustees also added several new members, growing from a board of 13 to 28.
“We’re working hard to create strategies going forward so we don’t end up in the same place,” Morris said.
Ashley Preisinger, co-chair of the board of trustees, said she was impressed with Morris’ dedication to pack up and leave her home in California to come to Georgia Shakespeare in the midst of the turnaround.
“Lauren is doing a great job. If I had to give her a score card for her first six months, I would say A+,” Preisinger said. “Since she’s been here she’s just hit the ground running.”
Morris was brought to Georgia Shakespeare from Long Beach, Calif., where she helped turn around a community theater. Morris said she holds an MBA and has graduate training in theater management.
“It is really rewarding and it’s very personal for me. I love the theater,” Morris said. “I connect my identity very closely to this work. It’s a very personal journey I’m on as well as a professional journey.”
She said she spent 10 years as a theater artist before moving over to the business side.
“I realized I could have the biggest impact on this thing I loved if I was on this side of it primarily,” Morris said.
Preisinger said Morris’ skills have been an asset for the theater company.
“She has an artistic background, so she speaks the language that our artists do. It’s really that combination that we need ….someone that can approach it from a business perspective too,” Preisinger said.
Morris said while Georgia Shakespeare is in a much better place, there is still more to be done. She said she looks at the turnaround as a three-year process.
“We are far from finished,” she said. “There’s no resting. There’s only going as fast as we can and as strategically as we can go.”