If you look up "gala," you'll see it's first defined as a "festive celebration" accompanied by entertainment.
"Gala," says Staller Center director Alan Inkles, pondering what it means to him. "It's like Passover. What makes it special is it gives us a chance to come together and bring something a little bigger for our family of supporters."
But Saturday's gala veers from the usual celebrity route. Inkles, whose arts center is a Stony Brook University facility, opted for spectacle -- Momix, the double-jointed acrobatic dance company. "When I saw Momix perform 'Botanica,' it blew me away. They do things you shouldn't be able to do onstage." He meant, of course, that the performers bend and twist themselves into inhuman contortions.
DOLLARS FOR ART The gala also means money. Inkles says Staller's event accounts for about 10 percent of fundraising toward its $1.6-million annual budget. Ticket sales cover only one-third of the budget. "The gala show itself prices a little more, but it's still affordable. We don't want it to be elitist. The gala is important, but it's the everyday fundraising -- meeting with corporations, individuals, friends of Staller -- that keeps us afloat. We get less and less from the state. Although I'm not complaining. They don't charge us rent for the building," says Inkles.
THE COMPETITION Galas are fundraising centerpieces for other Long Island arts centers, too. Celebrating its 30th anniversary last fall, Tilles Center, at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, booked Wynton Marsalis, plus the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, singer Ann Hampton Callaway and two Alvin Ailey dancers. "We wanted most of our disciplines represented," says Tilles director Elliott Sroka. The event netted about $250,000 -- down from $500,000 in "good years. Even big corporations aren't throwing money around in this economy," Sroka says. Additional fundraising enabled Tilles to maintain its $6-million annual budget. About 45 percent comes from ticket sales, a higher percentage than Staller's because of volume: Tilles, with 2,200 seats in its main hall, is double Staller's capacity.
The Jeanne Rimsky Theater at Port Washington's Landmark on Main Street is a nonprofit that gets some support from the Town of North Hempstead. Its November gala, featuring Sutton Foster, raised $200,000 with the help of a VIP tent's themed buffet and reception.
"We usually go with a big Broadway name. It helps pay the rent," says Rimsky director Sharon Maier-Kennelly.
WHAT Gala 2011: Momix performs "Botanica"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday at Staller Center, Stony Brook University
INFO $55 (show only), $400 to $5,000 (benefactor party and show); stallercenter.com, 631-632-2787 (box office), 631-632-7235 (for benefactors)