Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Stormy Weather Breaks Opening Night Box Office Record at Pasadena Playhouse

Celebrated Theatre Enjoys Success While Taking Proactive Steps in Face of Continuing National Economic Downturn

PASADENA, CA (January 30, 2009) Pasadena Playhouse today announced that Stormy Weather starring Leslie Uggams as Lena Horne has surpassed both Ray Charles Live and SISTER ACT the Musical and is now the record-holder for advance single ticket sales prior to opening night.

Pasadena Playhouse earned an international reputation for the development of new musicals over the past several years and this announcement comes as the Playhouse developed SISTER ACT the Musical published casting for its bow at the London Palladium on June 2. The report also coincides with the celebrated non-profit theatre’s announcement that they are taking proactive cost-savings and income-generating measures to weather the national economic downturn.

Stormy Weather has been nothing less than prolific at the box office and has far surpassed our expectations. Sales hit $330,000 by opening night Friday, January 30, surpassing both Ray Charles Live and SISTER ACT the Musical and this is at a lower ticket price,” stated Interim Managing Director, Ken Novice. The average ticket price for Stormy Weather is $50.00 while the average ticket price for Ray Charles Live and SISTER ACT was $70.00. Neither of these two previous productions surpassed $315,000 by opening night (Ray Charles Live reached $314,496.00 while SISTER ACT the Musical reached $297,773.50). Novice continued, “While we are thrilled with the box office receipts and the tremendous response from preview audiences, the success story only serves to point up the fact that America’s regional theatres cannot exist on ticket sales alone. We must also successfully reach a goal of raising $1 million in donated revenue in the first quarter in order to continue producing at the highest level of artistry.”

Facing a severe slow down in donated revenue that began in the third quarter of 2008, Pasadena Playhouse launched a multi-year capacity building fundraising program earlier this month, activated their board of directors in day-to-day fundraising efforts to expand the base of support and re-focused all fundraising programs into the first quarter of 2009. In addition, the Playhouse cut expenses to a minimum while focusing on maintaining the highest production values, supporting vital education programs that serve over 10,000 students annually, and making use of effective marketing techniques.

Pasadena Playhouse Board of Directors Chair, Michele Engemann stated, “We are not immune from current economic forces. It is imperative that our fundraising efforts in the next couple of months work; we must roll up our sleeves now in hopes of avoiding a crisis-driven funding call in the future. Board members have been working in our offices to support our development team by making fundraising calls and providing email addresses of colleagues and friends. The board is also beginning additional activities including identifying corporate contacts to solicit for charitable contributions and sponsorships and hosting fundraising events in our homes and at the Playhouse. If we are successful, these activities will allow us to expand our circle of individual and corporate donors in support of our artistic and education programs. The commitment demonstrated by our board will also send a positive sign to foundations that the Playhouse is worthy of their consideration for support even in what could be a long period of national financial distress.”

While many theatres are trimming expense budgets and cutting staffing the Playhouse has focused on capitalizing on artistic success and today announced a three-year pledge of $300,000 from Wells Fargo Bank. “The story is the same with many of my colleagues; we are all using the same analogy - it’s as if last October the donated revenue faucet was sharply turned to the off position,” stated Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director, Sheldon Epps. “But, there has been such positive momentum here on stage that we are compelled to tell our story now. Wells Fargo was the first to respond and that was followed by a $100,000 gift from a board member the next day. We are going to make sure that these become the first gifts in a long line of necessary support between now and April.”

In addition to fund raising efforts, the Playhouse will be co-producing one of its subscription offerings in 2009 with a local theatre company as another step to weather the national economic downturn. Epps continued, “As all of our arts institutions face enormous challenges during this economic climate, I believe that increased opportunities for collaboration, such as our co-production of Crowns with Los Angeles’ Ebony Repertory Theatre, are a necessary and intelligent way for us all to continue to thrive. I am very pleased that our two companies have recognized the wisdom of such an alliance, and I believe that the success of this effort will in fact serve as a model for similar partnerships in our immediate community and throughout the national theatre scene.”

Novice addressed administrative savings, “We very carefully evaluated all functional areas with the goal of protecting our artistic integrity and our ability to promote our 2009 season because it has been proven again and again that our programming drives our fundraising success. We identified items that we could live without in the short term such as professional memberships, and we looked for functions that we could absorb for a period such as contracted cleaning services for our administrative offices. We also trimmed budgets in other areas by more efficiently targeting our marketing efforts. Most importantly our long range plan remains intact and includes a greater emphasis on expanding our donor and subscription base, supporting our board to fundraise at the peak of their ability, indentifying new board members and individuals who can make major gifts, and expanding our base of donors under $1,000 by magnifying our telefunding efforts. We are also investigating ways to engage our subscribers and single ticket buyers in the fund raising efforts and hope to announce a major matching gifts program soon.”

The Playhouse also initiated discount programs for both season subscriptions and single tickets in order to address the financial challenges faced by some theatre audiences. Discounts of up to 44% are available for 2009 subscriptions with even larger discounts available for groups, students, and educators. In addition, access pricing is available for the Playhouse’s biggest musical production, Stormy Weather. And, for the first time in the Playhouse’s history, a holiday production (title to be announced) will be offered on subscription – this change will result in a significant increase to subscription revenue while retaining the Playhouse’s opportunity to sell individual tickets during the holiday season. The Playhouse has also identified other revenue opportunities by packaging and marketing its front of house concessions offerings and reinvigorating its seat naming fundraising program targeting patrons at each performance.


Photo credit: Leslie Uggams as Lena Horne in Stormy Weather. Photo by kevinberne.com. Ray Charles Live! and The cast of SISTER ACT the Musical. Photos by Craig Schwartz.

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