The Gamm Theatre: Telling Stories that Entertain, Provoke, and Engage

The Gamm Theatre: 40 Years of Cultural Programming and Community Support

November 7, 2022

Arts and cultural organizations are the sources of some of our favorite DipJar stories. They are literally all over the map. Today’s story comes from the small but mighty state of Rhode Island, where The Gamm Theatre has been providing great cultural programming for almost 40 years. We spoke with Amy Gravell, the managing director, and Shannon Carroll, the director of business & operations, about the theater, its mission in the community, the ways the community supports its efforts, and - of course - how DipJar has helped.

Shannon came to The Gamm as part of a life-long love of all things theatrical. Along the way, there have been all kinds of opportunities and experiences. At The Gamm, Shannon started as the box office manager years ago and now finds herself with a broad portfolio. Amy has spent more than 25 years in philanthropy, supporting organizations like her most recent position as associate executive director at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket. Arts, culture, and performance are all personal passions for her. When the position at The Gamm opened up, Amy leapt at the opportunity. That was just months before the pandemic, so she has been on hand for a tumultuous time!

On the day of our conversation, the theater was opening its 38th season with Describe the Night by Rajiv Joseph, a timely production given the current situation in Russia. Since its founding, the theater has changed names and locations many times, but its commitment to its work and the community has never wavered. Nor has its mission, which is to tell stories that engage with the important issues of our time in ways that educate and enrich the civic and cultural life of the community.

To do this, the theater has many ways to support the people of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. For example, through its education department, The Gamm has a close relationship with educators and educational institutions - from K-12 schools to RI’s public colleges and university to other nonprofit organizations and beyond. This takes the form of school programs, after-school programs, and summer programs for youth as well as evening classes for adults and many different community events for other organizations. At the college level, The Gamm offers a paid fellowship for emerging artists of color. It’s a year-long and deeply immersive experience that exposes participants to all aspects of the theater’s work.

That work is expansive and goes far beyond the stage. Of course, it starts there, with five different plays every season and an annual holiday show. The Gamm also serves as a broader cultural hub, with movies, a concert series, an art gallery, food truck nights, and more. During the pandemic, the theater allowed other arts organizations to use its space to produce content. It even serves as a voting location!

With all of the programming and activities The Gamm provides, it’s no surprise that it receives strong support from the community. That isn’t to say it couldn’t use more, however. Like many arts organizations, The Gamm has an older audience base and is seeking to expand it by attracting younger people from across the region.

Increasing ticket sales is part of the equation, but this only accounts for about half of the organization's income. Additional earned income - from space rentals - also helps, but even together, these are not enough. Fortunately, Amy says they are often overwhelmed by the generosity of the community.

“There is something special for people who give to the arts,” she said, “particularly during the pandemic. We saw an incredible community response - a trend that has continued as we return to some sort of normal.” It’s not just individual donors, but businesses too. A local credit union, for example, sponsors It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play during the holidays.

The Gamm also relies on a number of high-profile events throughout the year. The annual fund is used for ongoing support. This year, a raffle will be held between now and the holidays. The prize is a trip to London that includes sight seeing as well as tickets to several shows in London’s West End. The Gamm Gala, which will take place live and in person in the Spring of 2023, is also a much-anticipated and successful event.

DipJar plays a role as well. Since 2019, DipJar has been used by Gamm to raise more than $22,000. It typically sits at the box office, ready to receive donations. For the theater’s 35th anniversary, the amount was set to $35. That number is flexible, though, and can be adjusted to align with the needs and purpose of specific events. “People love them,” said Shannon. “We have one couple who comes regularly. They each ‘dip’ using their own credit cards, dueling back and forth. It’s a lot of fun to watch them - and to watch their donations coming in!”

[caption id="attachment_4345" align="aligncenter" width="431"]

Gamm Theatre's 2022 Cast[/caption]

The fundraising success of The Gamm is important. As Amy pointed out, people realize the importance of the arts and want to be a part of supporting something bigger than themselves, connecting with each other, and enriching the community. We recognize that importance, as well, and are pleased to see our technology furthering the mission of The Gamm Theatre and other cultural organizations like them all across the country.


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