BRADENTON -- The headline in Monday's Wall Street Journal read, "What It Takes to Keep a Community Theater Running."
Underneath the headline was a photograph of Bradenton's Manatee Performing Arts Center.
"Times are good for Manatee Players," the story states, noting that the company has thrived largely by building community relationships.
The story profiles three community theaters that are making ends meet. Two -- Phoenix Stage Company in Naugatuck, Conn., and Aspen Community Theater in Aspen, Colo. -- are portrayed as struggling entities. Only Manatee Players are seen as thriving.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
"Things weren't always this way," reads the story by Miami writer Kevin Brass. "In the '90s, the theater hit hard times after a series of unsuccessful shows, raising questions about its future. But the group rebounded by focusing on the interests of the community and forming alliances with other community groups."
The story has been in the works since the spring.
"Seven months," said Janene Witham, the executive director of the Manatee Players. "Since I was 43. I'm 44 now."
Witham said Brass had learned about Manatee Players through the American Association of Community Theatre. He became intrigued with the company's success story through conversations with Witham.
Brass wasn't the only person from the Journal that Witham spoke to.
"We were grilled with questions from the writer," she said. "Then we were grilled with questions from the writer's editors. Then we were grilled with questions from the editors' editors. They really did want to portray our community efforts positively and accurately."
Although the Manatee Players are clearly the most financially successful of the three theaters profiled in the story, the others are getting by.
The 4-year-old Phoenix Stage company switched its focus from classic works to new plays, and attracts audiences with free "Tweet seats." Those are seats in the rear of the theater given to patrons who agree to Tweet about the show as it's going on.
Aspen Community Theater focuses on one major production a year.
Like Phoenix, Brass writes, Aspen "often lives close to the bone."
The Manatee Players are featured last in the list of the three profiles in the story, and their success is presented as a contrast with the other two companies.
"They were doing it as business story, not as a theater story," Witham said. "To be recognized as a business that's an important economic driver for the community is really wonderful."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.