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Little changes

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Jennifer Caleshu, acting executive director of the Little Theatre, says she's been fielding phone calls from people interested in taking the helm of the downtown landmark.

"I think that for those who might not be in the business, it sounds like a really attractive job," she says. Caleshu was the associate director when executive director Richard Garth resigned last weekend.

Garth took over the post from Bill Coppard only six months ago. He had been on the theater's board of trustees since 1999, when he and Coppard and others created the nonprofit Little Theatre Film Society to save the struggling arthouse theater. But Garth refers to his time in the executive director chair as a "transition."

"I think things can continue to go well for the Little," Garth says. "At this point, it's not a good fit for me personally."

The executive director is responsible for "steering the ship," Caleshu says. The job includes programming films, dealing with film distributors and marketing, managing the facility's operations, supervising the general manager, handling corporate sponsorship and membership, development duties like writing grants, and overseeing the budget.

Board president Tom Proietti says the board will meet this week to discuss options. A new organizational structure might be in order, he says. The staff shakeup comes just after the theater's 75th anniversary gala event.

"The challenges are huge," Proietti says. "We're going to have raise an awful lot of money, probably have to restructure our debt, and probably find the magic formula of the organizational structure to make that effective, efficient, and possible."

Proietti, Garth, and Caleshu all say that positioning the Little as a vital cultural institution --- not just a movie theater --- is the biggest goal on the horizon.

"The community really needs to see the Little as an indispensable art institution like the art gallery, or the RPO, or Geva," Garth says. "Too much of the community looks at the Little as just sort of a funky multiplex."

"We really have to scream 'membership,'" Proietti says. "We run into that PBS problem. PBS and NPR know that only about 10 percent of the people using the service actually are members. We calculate ours at about 8 percent."

The Little Theatre Film Society has about 1800 members; the board wants 3000. Members pay an annual fee and get discounted tickets and newsletters.

The membership fees provide a financial cushion for the theater.

The theater faces not just a small membership but, like many cultural institutions, an aging one. Attracting young patrons is a concern, Proietti says. One method being tried: holding screenings just for college students, with lower-priced tickets and advertising on all the campuses.

"I think we're really now starting to figure out who we are," Proietti says.