DC Performing Arts Venues Struggling, But Not Suffering

Deeper notches are being cut into the belts of Door County’s performing arts venues as their directors prepare for another financially uncertain 2010 season.

Performances in 2009 did not suffer terribly, but adjustments were made behind the scenes at some venues to keep costs down and maintain the quality of the shows.

“We sold the same number of tickets in our 2008-2009 season as we did in 2007-2008,” said Sharon Grutzmacher, executive director of the Peninsula Music Festival (PMF). “We just sold them for less money. We sold the least expensive tickets first and then, instead of losing ticket sales, we bargained with people and reduced ticket prices.”

Organizations like Peninsula Music Festival are using social networking tools like Facebook to reach out to new audiences.

Peninsula Players saw a record year in 2008, according to Managing Director Brian Kelsey, and was only a few percentage points off an average year in 2009, he said.

“I saw the season happening, and told all my staff that we had to tighten our belts top to bottom,” Kelsey said. “We feed up to 50 people a day, so our cook was very cautious and looking at ways to save money. Our technical director, when he was building sets, looked at buying in bulk or items on sale. All around the entire Players, people looked at what they could personally do to keep costs down, even simple things, like turning off lights.”

The price point for tickets that most show-goers seemed comfortable with was $30 to $35, according to Grutzmacher.

“We noticed a lot of families in the audience this year,” Grutzmacher said. “So we decided for the 2009-2010 season, we’re offering $10 tickets for any seat at any show to young people – seven year old children and students of any age.”

Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay was one of the few performing arts venues that realized an increase in ticket sales, between 25 to 30 percent, according to Judy Drew, executive director of TAP.

“Donations are going to be a different story though,” Drew said. “Giving in general is going to be down.”

“We’re very modestly priced,” Drew added. “People are able to come and see live theatre and music. Our general admission ticket prices are $15 and $12 for seniors and students. For our children’s productions, we charge $7 and $5. We noticed in particular a lot more visitor traffic this summer than we typically get. The summer is typically our low season due to the other venues being open. We program differently knowing it’s difficult for us to get that summer market share.”

American Folklore Theatre (AFT) Managing Director Kaye Christman said AFT had their best year ever on the Peninsula State Park stage. Christman did not attribute AFT’s great season to an increase of campers in the park.

“We had two new shows this summer and a new one in the fall,” Christman said. “Camper attendance is probably only 20 to 25 percent of our attendance. This summer our show attendance was up 11 percent and fall saw a 50 percent increase.”

AFT premiered Cheeseheads, the Musical this summer. The park stage will also showcase the premier of Life on the Mississippi in the 2010 season.

Door County’s newest venue, the Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC) on Washington Island, which opened in 2004, was able to meet its 2009 budget mainly because the center’s staff produced fewer shows in-house than in previous years, according to Managing Director Richard “Doc” Westring. Unfortunately for Westring, who’s in his first year as director of TPAC, the center must close for the 2010 season due to unresolved construction issues. However, he does have plans to revamp the programming for 2011.

“In a sense we’ll be starting over,” Westring said. “Our attempt will be to serve the island with shows we can be sure will draw people to cover our expenses. That will include local groups. My predecessors concentrated more on having a show every weekend and filling seats as best they could. At times, that was not a financially practical way to go. For 2011, we’re looking to be conservative and focus on shows that will draw our community in.”

To assure audiences continue to attend symphonic performances at the PMF’s three weeks of shows, Grutzmacher started using new social media marketing tools.

“Our Facebook page has 500 followers. Forty percent of them are between 14 to 17 years old,” Grutzmacher said. “We’re doing more advertising in college and high school newspapers. We have the music boosters from Gibraltar Schools working our concessions and they keep the profits. They raised $2,000 last year.”

Grutzmacher also changed the way PMF requested donations for 2010.

“We had a good year for donations this year, but we worked five times as hard at it,” Grutzmacher said. “We made a big push to people to just give $50. And we were able to raise $9,000 off that drive. We also saw lapsed donors come back.”