BRUNSWICK – On Saturday, Wendy Poole gathered friends and supporters to celebrate good news.

Poole, executive director of the Theater Project in Brunswick, wanted everyone who cares about the theater to know about its 40-year history and to lay out plans for the yearlong anniversary celebration.

And then she let them in on a secret that she’s had a hard time keeping quiet: The Theater Project recently received an anonymous, $100,000 unrestricted matching gift.

In these days and in this economy, $100,000 stands as a transformational sum of money. Presuming it can match the gift, the Theater Project will be changed forever.

“For the next couple of years, it will be put into the account and used if we get into a dire situation,” Poole said. “We’ll use some money for scholarships and for programming and all kinds of things. But what is most important, it gives us security.”

For an arts organization that struggled to survive a recent financial crisis, security may be the most valuable asset of all.

For the first 35 years of its existence, the Theater Project operated mostly on the generosity of its founder, Al Miller. But that money dried up a few years back, and it took the theater a long time to convince the community that it needed support.

For years, the theater provided educational opportunities for children while offering entertainment for adults. It has trained generations of actors, and turned countless people into theater supporters.

As part of the 40-year celebration, Poole has helped organize a series of events throughout the year to call attention to the theater and its accomplishments. The big one is an alumni weekend next August, when everyone who has ever had anything to do with the theater or appeared on its stage will be invited back.

As Poole reminded board members, friends and donors at a party on Saturday, the future of this organization has never been brighter or more immediate. A fundraising campaign has already begun to match the gift.

The theater has hired a professional fundraiser, Alicia J. Nichols, to provide counsel, and will soon be out in the community in a big way to make a case for donating to its capital campaign.

“We want to wrap this up in a year,” Poole said. “We’re hoping to get it done by Nov. 1 next year, and we’re confident we can do it. The people have been supportive for years.”

Miller began the Theater Project in 1971 as a non-profit community-based theater. It moved into its current building on School Street in 1986. It presents a dozen or so shows each year.

Generally, it operates with a budget of about $150,000. This year, the budget will take a bump to about $175,000 to help accommodate the fundraising campaign.

This news explains all the smiles around School Street lately.

“This puts us ahead of the game. It allows us to breath a sigh of relief,” Poole said. “We will all get a better night’s sleep.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes