The show must go on. That’s the mantra of many a thespian faced with the unexpected in the course of a theatrical production — and it’s also the perspective of the Oregon City Children’s Theatre and its team of volunteers after a scammer emptied the nonprofit’s bank account of $5,000 last week.
It was around that time that Michelle Leigh, a former stage actress and registered nurse who founded the community theatre troupe in 2005 at the request of her then-9-year-old daughter, made an online purchase of some chairs in advance of the show’s latest production, a non-musical presentation of Peter Pan, planned for November.
It’s the group’s first non-Zoom production since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Oregon in March 2020 and is being staged outdoors on Leigh’s father’s farm in Beavercreek.
Soon after making the purchase through a reputable company, Leigh received a text and then a follow-up phone call from someone purporting to be the bank that holds OCCT’s account.
“They’re just getting so much more savvy,” Leigh lamented to The Canby Current. “They knew my name, my address, my phone number, the last four digits of my social security number. They knew enough that I just thought they must be from the bank.”
Unfortunately, it was all a scam.
“They stole $5,000,” Leigh said. “I was devastated.”
The money was the result of two fundraisers the group conducted over the summer and represented what they would need to put on their latest production. The organization is entirely volunteer-run and operates “show-to-show,” raising and spending just enough to put on each production.
Leigh is still working with the nonprofit’s bank to track down the scammers, but fraud investigators told her there is less than a 1% chance that money will ever be recovered.
Rather than pull the plug on the show, Leigh and her team rallied, putting together a video featuring current and past OCCT cast members and launching a GoFundMe campaign to attempt to replace the stolen funds.
It took all of 24 hours, but as of Thursday afternoon, the nonprofit community theatre group has raised $6,185 of its $5,000 goal.
“It just happened, and we are so humbled that people would find it in their hearts to support us,” Leigh said shortly afterward. “And we’ve gotten so many beautiful comments from people, whether they’re past members of OCCT or other folks who are upset that this happened to kids but are glad we’re pushing forward. It’s amazing.”
Now that the organization has recouped its funds, any additional monies raised will go toward a needed building project to construct a storage unit for the group’s operations.
OCCT has produced more than 33 shows and 20 camps over the past 16 years, typically staging about three per year before the pandemic. Unusually, the group does and has always followed what Leigh describes as a “cast-all policy.”
“If you show up, I will cast you in my show,” she explained. “To me, it’s not about finding the most amazing actor; it’s about finding the right role for every kid.”
OCCT’s production of Peter Pan will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 21816 South McBurney Road in Beavercreek. Tickets are $9 and masks will be required. For more information, visit occtheatre.org.
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