Taking it off for charity

Topeka Civic Theatre supporters bare all for fund-raising calendar

The Topeka Civic Theatre is calling its new calendar fund-raising project "Much Ado About Nothing."

The operative word is "nothing."

That's exactly what the calendar models are wearing.

Riding on the bare coattails of garden clubs and other civic groups across the country, theater board members, staff and volunteers set modesty aside and stripped to their birthday suits to create 12 months worth of nude images they hope will raise $150,000 for the theater.

"The uniqueness of it was something we thought would create enough publicity to make it successful," says Teresa Longberg, the theater's marketing director.

Longberg said she believes the theater is the first organization in Kansas and the first theater in the country to do such a fund-raiser.

Just to be clear, the photos bear no resemblance to Playboy centerfolds. Strategically placed props cover private areas, and ordinary people are pictured doing relatively ordinary things -- building a theater set, languishing during a boring board meeting, auditioning for theater roles -- in black-and-white images taken by a professional behind locked doors at the theater.

Jones Seel Huyett, a Topeka advertising, marketing and public relations firm, took the photographs and designed the calendar for free.

Marvin Stottlemire, assistant director of Kansas University's Public Management Center and outgoing theater board member, appears in the board room shot and says he'd do it again in a heartbeat.


Special to the Journal-World

From left, Ted Shonka, Bill Hamm and Doug Exline simulate set-building at Topeka Civic Theatre. This and other nude images appear in "Much Ado About Nothing," a calendar the theater hopes will raise $150,000.

"As an actor, I've appeared on stage in my underwear on more than one occasion, so it just seemed a very small step to go the full monty," he says, chuckling. "You kind of lose your sense of modesty when you hang around the green room a lot and appear on stage, so it wasn't a problem for me."

Covering their hides

In the board room photograph, Stottlemire is sitting at a table, so he was able to wear some clothing. Other models hiding behind props were able to cover up a bit as well.

"My guess is that anyone who actually looks at the calendar is going to find that it's very humorous," Stottlemire says. "Certainly it's not something that's going to appeal to anybody's prurient interests. Someone who buys it for that interest is going to be disappointed."

Nevertheless, the theater has sent courtesy letters to its members and parents of academy students, hoping they don't get the wrong idea about the calendar before they see it.

The Topeka Civic Theatre has created a calendar that features board members, theater staff and volunteers in the nude. It's called "Much Ado About Nothing." The calendar is $20. The nonprofit theater hopes to raise $150,000.A calendar signing party will be 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at the theater, 3028 S.W. Eighth Ave., Topeka, but advance orders can be placed by phone at (785) 357-5211 beginning Tuesday or on the theater's Web site, www.topekacivictheatre.com, beginning Sept. 8.

"We don't want to warn them because there's nothing to warn them about," Longberg says. "But I would hate to have one of our academy parents hear (misleading information) without hearing from us first."

Realistically, though, the board is expecting at least a little controversy over the calendar. The name was chosen, in part, to quell criticism. "Much Ado About Nothing" refers both to what the models are wearing and what theater officials say makes the photos controversial -- nothing.

The theater has other fund-raising events, such as its September gala, at which the Kansas governor plays a role in a production and corporate sponsors pay for tables, and its New Year's Eve party. But, like all nonprofit organizations, the theater was looking for creative ways to make money in the struggling economy.

"It's a labor both for the administrative and artistic staffs to pull these things off," Longberg says. "We needed something that wasn't so laborious, something that was fun and new and, once we got started, would kind of run itself."


Special to the Journal-World

Carole Ries, director of the Topeka Civic Theatre, left, and theater board members pose nude in their board room. This is one of 12 nude photographs of theater staff, board members and volunteers that appear in a new calendar the theater hopes will raise $150,000.

Board members Doug Exline and his wife had purchased a similar calendar from the McLaughlin Foundation in Maine and suggested the idea to the board. Needless to say, they loved the idea.

"What a clever twist on fund raising: beefcakes instead of bake sales ... hmm, might just work," board member Mark Camancho says.

Successful model

Many of the calendar models are pillars of the Topeka community: top-level corporate executives, philanthropists, school teachers and even three Topeka radio personalities. Carole Ries, the theater's executive director, sits in the director's chair on the calendar's cover.

Mary Doveton, director of Lawrence Community Theatre, says she would have to know how much money was involved before she exposed herself for a similar fund-raising effort. The Lawrence theater's board has rejected the idea of doing a nude calendar.

"I took the suggestion to the board last year, and they didn't exactly jump at the chance," Doveton says. "They thought we should explore other avenues first."


Special to the Journal-World

Topeka Civic Theatre volunteers strut their naked stuff in a photograph that appears in a new calendar called "Much Ado about Nothing." The theater hopes to raise $150,000 through calendar sales.

"I think it's hysterical," she continues. "I know a number of places across the country are doing it. I think it's just kind of a fun take on fund raising. I don't think there's anything particularly tasteless about it. The examples I've seen, people are pretty well covered up."

As of January 2003, the online Naturist Journal had counted 13 organizations across the country using nudity in calendars to raise money. Among them were Cincinnati's Civic Garden Center, The First Men's Garden Club of Dallas, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the breast cancer awareness organization No Ordinary Angels. News reports estimate the calendars have generated more than $1.5 million for 40 different causes during the past few years.

Stottlemire's excited about the calendar and hopes it makes a lot of money for a theater he says binds the community together. Now if he can just convince his friends.

"There's a lot of eye-rolling," he says, "and people who are wanting to know how much they have to pay NOT to look at the pictures."


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