Technology keeps the lights on at the American Shakespeare Center

The downturn in the economy has heavily impacted theatres across the country, especially over the last three years. When budgets are hard hit, often one of the first things that’s impacted is echnology. “If we have to choose between hiring another actor or upgrading our software, we always pick the actor,” says Amy Wratchford, managing director of the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia.

But while the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it ” adage has its merits, making do with outdated versions of necessary, everyday software like Microsoft Office can lead to miscommunications and missed opportunities.

The ASC has a full-time staff of 15, and up until August of this year, it was still running Office 2000 on all of its computers. Incompatibility issues were starting to become a real problem. “We were receiving more and more attachments that we couldn’t open. And although we found workarounds, being out of date was clearly hindering our communication with our peers, funders, and fans.” Luckily, these growing issues coincided with Wratchford’s discovery of TechSoup and the Microsoft software donations program. “I learned about the donation program through the Theatre Communications Group, and when I came to the ASC I was thrilled that the company already belonged,” she says. “We were overjoyed to get Microsoft Office 2010 for the whole office and finally be truly functional.”

Wratchford also found herself using a lot of the articles, tutorials, and links she received in TechSoup’s follow-up email. “We really appreciated all of the resources made available to us to help us get the most out of our software.”

The ASC’s mission is to “recover the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre and language through performances and education,” Wratchford says, adding, “We do it with the lights on.” That is to say, the ASC uses English renaissance staging to recreate Shakespeare as it was originally performed. This includes keeping the house lights on in its indoor theatre, the Blackfriars Playhouse, to encourage interaction between actors and audience.

From the marketing department to the box office, Wratchford says not only is everyone able to do their job more efficiently (including opening all of their attachments), but they’re also able to tell ASC’s story in the most compelling way possible—all as a result of the Microsoft software donation. “Now we have the proper tools to communicate with everyone on the same level,” she says. “The newest version of Excel is helping to streamline our box office reporting, and our development team is using new features in PowerPoint to create more dynamic presentations. Since we operate on 80% earned income and 20% contributions, attracting funders is vital to our ongoing success.”

The ASC's Education Center also relies heavily on the Microsoft Office suite to develop and present its ongoing workshops, actor trainings, and summer programs that bring Shakespeare's plays to life for people of all ages.

Together, Microsoft and TechSoup are helping ASC keep the lights on, today and for many years to come.

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