Shakespeare Festival pullout leaves city theater in lurch
High Point Theatre Director David Briggs is scrambling to fill vacancies left when the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival announced at the first of the month that it had suspended operations because of financial difficulties.
Before the announcement, the Shakespeare Festival had reserved the theater for Aug. 25-Sept. 30 for its production of “Macbeth” and Nov. 24-Dec. 23 for “A Christmas Carol.”
The blow to the city-owned and -operated theater is both financial and peripheral.
In recent years, the city of High Point gave credit of $50,000 annually to the Shakespeare Festival for theater rental and for off-duty police officers to provide security. That $50,000 was simply transferred from one city account to the theater’s account.
The theater, however, will lose actual income from the $1.50 per-ticket fee it charged the Shakespeare Festival to sell and handle tickets through the theater box office and for charges for technical use fees. The theater also will experience a small trickle-down loss on concession and merchandise sales.
The hard-cash loss this year will amount to approximately $23,000, Briggs said.
The equally significant impact on the theater will be felt in ways that can’t be quantified economically, Briggs said.
“The timing of their pulling out was terrible,” Briggs said. “It was too late for us to realistically look to fill those dates. We’re working pretty hard to fill the December time frame, but whether we’ll bring in $23,000, I don’t know that that’s realistic.”
The theater already scheduled and publicized its own 2013-14 “Passport to Entertainment” season, so series events can’t be added now.
In addition, Briggs said, the theater’s advertising campaign relied on Shakespeare Festival visitors to the theater seeing posters and other material about the theater season and other events booked at the theater.
During Shakespeare Festival productions, visitors also were able to view exhibits at Theatre Art Galleries, a private nonprofit group that shared building space.
Shakespeare Festival patrons also made an impact on High Point by eating at restaurants, buying gas and staying in hotels.
The Convention & Visitors Bureau doesn’t track those numbers; it only tracks groups that come to town for large events, such as conventions and bicycle competitions, and stay in hotels.
Briggs, however, created his own formula for the economic impact the Shakespeare Festival had on the city and came up with an estimate of $80,525 for last year.
He used attendance figures, based on box office records, of 13,360 patrons for SchoolFest performances of “Romeo and Juliet” and “A Christmas Carol” and 9,425 patrons for MainStage productions of the same two plays. He conservatively assigned a money-spent figure of $2.50 per visitor for SchoolFest and $5 per person for MainStage.
So far, Briggs has been able to fill some of the dates left vacant by the Shakespeare Festival.
“It’s been a very difficult thing because for years we’ve been turning away people (interested in renting the theater) in September and December, so they’re used to that, and a lot of folks don’t call,” he said.
He’s scheduled “Black and Blue Experience,” a beach music and R&B show, for Sept. 27; “Spank,” an off-Broadway touring production that’s a parody of “50 Shades of Grey,” for Sept. 20; and Greensboro Youth Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” for Nov. 23.
Briggs also is negotiating with local groups for productions in December, including some holiday-themed shows.
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