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VOL. 116 | NO. 194 | Monday, October 7, 2002

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Recession not hurting performing arts

Some performing arts feeling pinch of recession


The Daily News

Discretionary income is first to feel the tightening grasp of a recession, meaning less eating out and even less entertainment outlets for people. The weekend dinner and a movie might have turned into frozen pizza and a library movie rental for the household going through a job loss or other cutbacks.

Or, thats what one would think.

Many local performing arts outlets, however, have seen steady audience numbers during the past year and a half, while some local groups have seen equal numbers, just at a slower rate.

Some venues have even seen an increase.

Playhouse on the Square founder and executive producer Jackie Nichols said subscription sales for season ticket holders is up 21 percent compared to this time last year.

Single ticket sales, meanwhile, have remained steady.

Nichols said the increase is probably due to a number of reasons; however, he said he feels the fact people traveled less this year might have helped local performance numbers.

Those staying at home still have to do something, Nichols said.

Playhouse began in 1969. It seats 250 people and stages four shows a week, and typically sees 50,000 patrons per year.

Tickets range from $16 to $26.

Having good quality shows doesnt hurt either, he said.

The movie industry continues to see phenomenal success. Locally, the ubiquitous movie theater reflects satiates droves of moviegoers.

Even with the movie industrys popularity, Nichols thinks live theaters will continue to flourish if they provide shows the community craves.

If people have a show they want to see, they will come and see it, he said.

I go to films myself, but there is nothing like live theater.

Even with movies competing with theatergoers for their time, Nichols believe there is enough market space for both.

There is enough to go around, he said.

Ron Jewell, facility director for the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center, said it can become overwhelming to think about competition in the local entertainment community. Between casinos, a lively club scene, movies and people simply staying home, Jewell admits it is difficult to spread the word about performing arts.

This has been a tough two-year period for a lot of folks in the arts. None of us has money to spend on our marketing endlessly, he said.

However, for people wanting an alternative to a typical movie or club, many think of performing arts centers like BPACC.

The center is in its fourth season and has been successful, Jewell said.

The 350-seat theaters first two shows sold out this year: Randy Newman and Rockapella.

Last year, shows sold out 90 percent of the time, Jewell said.

Audiences show up to see something different, but the prices also help keep the venue competitive with other entertainment.

Jewell said tickets are $15 per show, and for season ticket holders, the price per ticket drops to $12.50 per show.

At the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, audiences are still showing up, but sales for season ticket holders are slow compared to last year.

Executive director Albert Pertalion said that in past years, season subscriptions typically sold out in five to six weeks, but this season it has taken two to three months to approach a sellout.

He said he noticed the economy was taking a toll on the community when people called GPAC about the high ticket prices for the Itzhak Perlman-IRIS Chamber Orchestra performance.

The center announced the performance in May and set prices at $250, as a fundraiser for IRIS. While people wanted to see the world-renowned violinist, they couldnt afford the tickets.

After receiving so many calls, Pertalion said GPAC reduced the ticket prices to $150, not because the tickets werent selling, but because he wanted the community to attend the performance, even if the economy was dragging down peoples discretionary income.

People called and said, We simply couldnt afford it. The market is down and we have lost our savings. All of a sudden, we were struck with an ethical decision. We didnt want anybody to make a choice between buying groceries and seeing one of our concerts, Pertalion said.

The 900-seat center is in its ninth season and prices vary depending on the show or series purchased. A single ticket can range from $32 to $43.

For Ballet Memphis, officials are seeing a change in the way tickets are being purchased; however, it is not a reflection of the economy, but rather shows that people live differently today, said Carol Coletta, strategic development consultant for Ballet Memphis.

Starting last year, Coletta said the organization noticed people werent buying as many season tickets, but were buying more single tickets, and they bought them at the last minute.

People are busier. People perceive themselves as busier and probably they are. And, I dont think people want to make plans the way they used to, Coletta said.

It used to be that going out was a big dealbut now with people eating out more oftengoing out is not as special.

But for those promoting the arts, even during a down economy, it is a needed commodity, people in the industry said.

When times are tough, the place you have to turn to is art. There has to be something to let you rise out of your mortgage your fender bender your insurance premium, Pertalion said.

And of course, Beethoven Beethoven will do it.

PROPERTY SALES 85 305 21,577
MORTGAGES 62 223 16,417
BANKRUPTCIES 34 138 6,717