Sunday, August 20, 2017

Planning a Season

I am back at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, this time with the new Executive Director, Joel Aalberts.  Actually, he is not that new having started a year ago tomorrow.  He comes to Santa Fe having been Director at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts since 2013.  He also served in other Midwestern theatres, as a performer as well.

He had several concepts not tried before at the Lensic.  One was that the season’s program should be ready to be announced in May for the following August though May of the next year. This would allow his audience to plan, and most importantly buy tickets in advance.  Personally, we have already booked tickets through next April.  Here is Joel with his family at the announcement of the coming season.

An important goal for any theater is not to lose money on a season.  If you are a theatergoer, beyond Broadway or the Las Vegas strip, you are always told that tickets only fund a percentage of any year.  They cannot cover the tens of thousands it costs to book the entertainment plus supply the additional lights, other tech and musical instruments that might be needed through tickets alone.  The care and feeding of the headliner for the evening is also vital to the reputation of the theater and staff in the industry.

Joel with Actress Rita Moreno
Joel with Jazz Singer Dianne Reeves

The Lensic, being a converted 1930’s Movie Palace in a small town, has 821 seats.  I asked Joel whether we could have a particular political satirist whom I like and I think would do well in multi-cultural Santa Fe.  Joel said he would like to have him as well, but that he would probably not be interested in playing to an 800 seat theater when there were 2,000 plus seat auditoriums in Los Vegas or even where Joel worked previously in Kentucky.  When planning a season you have to be realistic as to whom might play the house.

If the Lensic would charge $10 for a family event, that would bring in only $8,210, which would not cover costs.  If you bring in a star the costs can come to $50,000 or  even much more. If all seats cost the same you might have to charge $100 per seat and you would lose much of your audience. Currently the most expensive seat in the house is $79 for a few shows and prices go down substantially from there.  In fact, the less than ideal seats at the Lensic are usually priced in the neighborhood of $25.

Joel with Nancy Zeckendorf, founding director, at the Lensic

Practically speaking when planning a season you need to know as much as you can about your patrons.  Joel’s first season he had a very short time to do this, but he could look at past seasons and see which events sold out and which had less than perfect attendance.

Last year there was only a week between his start date and one of the arts conferences he attends every year.  There are three in the United States: one is the Western Arts Alliance Conference which he goes to at the end of August, one in the mid-west and one on the East Coast.  These conferences try to focus, as much as possible, on the arts that appeal to that part of the country.  The theatre directors are pitched from morning ‘till night by the agencies trying to book their programs and talent. 

Once the actual season begins Joel can get direct responses by seeing not only how the house fills but also by comments made to him by members of the audience.  He attends many events in the house and is very open to the public’s comments, which surprised me since everyone has an opinion!

Agencies continue to pitch via email all year long and Joel will try to find an opening in the schedule if he thinks a particular act will appeal.  Two such sell outs this season were Trombone Shorty and Chris Botti neither of whom I had ever heard of.  Trombone Shorty, as his name implies, plays trombone and has a band.  Having played at the Lensic, he is going on a European tour this fall.  Chris Botti is a Grammy-winning trumpeter.  My point being that Joel has to know a lot of different parts of the entertainment industry and learns more all the time, including the tastes of his audience.  Here, like New York, you have great ethnic and age diversity.

Every theatre Director will have personal goals and one of Joel’s is to offer a diverse choice every year to expose people, not just to the same success as last year, but variations on a theme.  I have written a couple of times on Taiko drummer groups; each was different, so our experience was varied and our horizons broadened.

No comments:

Post a Comment