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A Curtain Raised by our Community: Saving Hunchback

Our Artistic Director was deep into creating our brand-new, exciting, epic, full-length ballet, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," when an unforeseen financial change occurred and we simply did not have the funding for the program. Organizations like ours are still really hurting after years of the pandemic and we were heartbroken because we thought we would have to cancel our spring program…

So as passionate artists do, we decided to turn to our community for help. They leaped to “Save Hunchback” and reminded us of the deep impact the arts has on our community and society!

It became obvious that we were not alone in our deep longing for bringing back Art and Culture to our community here on the California coast. Every dollar given expressed our society’s yearning for the arts and their support to bring them back after the pandemic stole them from us for so long.


Financial Strain During and Post Pandemic Telling stories on stage is the hallmark of Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo (BT-SLO): from Robin Hood (2009, 2013), to Undine (2012), to The Snow Queen (2017, 2018), we have produced many original works. But in 2020 the entire arts community was halted due to the global pandemic.

Ballet Performances in our BlackBox Theatre
Ballet Performances in our BlackBox Theatre

After 2-3 years of struggling through the ever-changing maze of regulations, shrinking class sizes due to distancing requirements, and countless other hurdles that threatened our ability to keep the doors open, we persevered through it all! We kept the studio alive, continued to engage students, and allowed our Performing Company to dance in smaller productions.

It was a huge feat for our studio, but it came with a cost. Staying afloat during the pandemic greatly depleted our resources. We know that it will take years for us to fully recover and restabilize as a small nonprofit..

Emerging from the Pandemic Reinvigorated and Hungry

Nearing the end of 2021, our studio began looking ahead toward a brighter future, hoping to return to the stage in full swing with yet another original Spring production. We set our sights on the production of the well-known story, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“As an artist, Covid-19 presented an unknown future. I could not create and our dancers could not dance. Now, with many bridges crossed, the future is open for exciting new projects! The creative juices are flooding my mind and soul! Our dancers are experiencing a rebirth of their passion for our art and hungry for serious work,” says Artistic Director and Choreographer, Theresa Slobdnik.

BT-SLO felt eager to rise to the challenge of mounting a brand new full-length classical ballet: the production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” will be an original adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel set in 1482, Paris. With themes of tragic love, prejudice, and betrayal, the story will enthrall audiences and resonate with today’s times.

Hunchback in Jeopardy!

But when it came time to begin production on Hunchback in January 2023, we were stopped in our tracks yet again! Telling stories on stage is expensive. In addition to the typical expenses of any production: theater rental and technical charges, publicity, etc, there is also the added challenge of creating new sets, costumes, props, and rented backdrops, which must match the scale of the story being told.

Unfortunately, due to last-minute unforeseen changes in donations, our brand-new, exciting, epic, full-length ballet was suddenly in JEOPARDY! Despite our Artistic Director being deep in the creative process for months, our financial situation meant that there would be NO Hunchback production.

Despite this major roadblock just 4 months from the show date, our Artistic Director was determined to continue the project we set out to do. “We at least have to try to raise the funds...” Theresa Slobodnik said to the BT-SLO leadership team. So we turned to our community for help.

The Emergency Hunchback Cast Meeting

The newly formed cast for Hunchback gathered for an emergency meeting on Friday, January 13. We dropped the news to the cast: We need to raise $25,000 in the next TWO WEEKS, or else there will be NO Hunchback production!

We challenged each cast member to raise at least $750 individually through social media, personal connections, and any means they had available. A daunting task. “How will the cast react to such a large task?” the BT-SLO leadership team was concerned.

But the cast responded with excitement and optimism! They were hungry for the opportunity to launch a brand-new full length ballet in the “big theater” of the Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo. They were ready to tackle the challenge! The future was uncertain but the air was hopeful as we left the meeting.

Rising to the Occasion

In less than 24 hours, our cast members hit the ground running to meet our fundraising goal. With a mindset of working together as a community, we progressed Hunchback funding forward with the hopes of creating this opportunity for each of us to dance this spring.

We employed every tactic we could and every dollar donated made a difference:

  • Social media campaigns collecting donations as little as $5

  • Major donations from family and friends

  • Bake and craft sales

  • New grant opportunities with local and national organizations

  • Corporate matching and more!

  • We only had 2 weeks.

We wondered if it would be enough to truly Save Hunchback…

Bake Sales and Craft Sales by our Dancers
Bake Sales and Craft Sales by our Dancers

An Outpour of Love for Ballet and the Arts

The stress and fear of failure was a fog that quickly burned off by the generosity of our community and our loved ones. We were brought to tears by the outpour of people's love for the arts and for what we do at BT-SLO. We were reminded by so many of the impact this work has on our community and society.

BT-SLO leader Roeh Caramadre recounted, “I was surprised that most people I asked were willing to donate $5 - 10 and every bit counts! I was blown away by those who contributed more. Donations came with beautiful words of encouragement like ‘You are very welcome! Keep doing what you do. The world is better with art and couldn't survive without artists!!’ It really sunk in how much people loved the arts and how it affects people’s lives in uniquely beautiful ways!”

The feedback and support from our community was overwhelming and extremely inspiring! The purpose of our work to produce pieces like Hunchback and creating opportunities for everyone to discover the arts became even more powerful and even bigger than this single fundraising goal.

It became obvious that we were not alone in our deep longing for bringing back Art and Culture to our community here on the California coast. Every dollar given expressed our society’s yearning for the arts and their support to bring them back after the pandemic stole them from us for so long.

Together We Saved Hunchback!

Alumni near and far, our students' parents (past and current), our family & friends, and our small but mighty Hunchback cast - TOGETHER WE "SAVED HUNCHBACK!"

In just 2 weeks, our community came to our rescue and made a miracle happen! By January 31st we had confirmation that we had the funds necessary to keep moving forward!

Blair London, Assistant Director and Director of our BT-SLO School, said “COVID did have a silver lining. It brought into clear focus that Arts & Culture are essential. For many of us, we need some aspect of the arts in our lives to be completely human – to get true satisfaction and joy from life."

This fundraiser and the response from our community showed us just how essential it is. The silver lining to having to “Save Hunchback” was that it gave us a deeper understanding and appreciation for what we do here at BT-SLO.

Now the work begins for our BT-SLO artists to bring Hunchback to the stage! We will see you on stage in just 8 weeks!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

From the entire BT-SLO community: A genuine thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who donated to Hunchback. We would not be putting this show on stage without each of your efforts and donations.

The love our community has shown for the arts and for us inspires us to continue to persevere through every hurdle that comes our way. We are here to spark the love of art. We dance to bring joy…and to say THANK YOU for all the ways you supported us.

Save the Date: The Hunchback of Notre Dame at the PAC April 1 & 2

Our full-length ballet adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes to PAC on April 1 & 2! Artistic Director Theresa Slobodnik’s vision and choreography for Hunchback brings fresh insight to Victor Hugo’s complex characters amidst professionally mounted sets, stunning period costumes, and the compelling storytelling by the dance artists of BT-SLO.

Tickets are on sale on the PAC website!

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