Last week an article came out in the Downey Patriot titled thus: ‘New Era’ Off to a Rough Start. It was referring to a comedy night recently held by H&E Entertainment at the Downey Civic Theatre. The show undersold, and the producers were disappointed. They canceled all future bookings for the year, and their disappointment was retold to a Patriot reporter who turned it into a front-page story. What the article didn’t say, though, was that the light quote, ‘New Era’ was quoting this post from here at the Downey Arts Coalition. So since they dragged us into it, I guess I’ll respond. I’m never without opinion, after all.
First of all, the show had an attendance of 200 out of 350 sold or handed-out tickets. This is not a failure. Nor is it even a rough start. 200 butts in seats is a HUGE success, by most standards. And we are not Center Theatre Group or The Kodak. 200 people is a marvelous turnout for Downey, CA. Now, it must be said that the theater itself seats over 700. So in a space that large, 200 is going to feel quite sparse. This is an indication of a different problem. Another venue, or a different management of the space perhaps could have helped. Morale does tend to slump when there are so many empty seats, and that can make the room feel cold and awkward. Also, when audience is spread out over a larger space, they can’t respond to each other, which limits the amount of laughs something like a comedy show would receive. So there was definitely a problem here. But the shear number of tickets should not be knocked. Good job on getting those 200 people! Seriously, that is awesome.
Second, the producers were quoted more than once complaining that those in the community who advocate for the arts didn’t even show up. Well, if we were the only people you were going for, you’d have about 10 butts in the seats. We already support the arts. The people we are trying to reach with this effort are the regular people– those who rarely or never see a DCLO show, Downey Symphony concert, who spend most of their evenings out at Olive Garden and the movies. These are the people we want to reach in our community. Artists making art for other artists is nice, but it’s not far-reaching enough. The purpose of our efforts here is to unify us all as a community.
Third: okay, you want to fill that house? You must market. You must advertise. You must (here’s the hard part) figure out what this community needs (not just wants, but needs), and how to make them want it. And you’ve got to deliver.
Now, as for the New Era and the Rough Start. The new era to which we are referring is the takeover of the Downey Civic Theatre by VenueTech, a booking company that will bring new acts to the theatre and pretty much bring it back to life. VenueTech is in residency at the theatre starting in 2011, but they have yet to book their first season. So the New Era hasn’t really begun. H&E Entertainment is commendable for bringing some new stuff to the theatre, but VenueTech’s first season will be the lineup that we’re all waiting to hear about. They also have different plans for the way that the theatre promotes all of its bookings, including the community’s usual theatre and music events, but it all has yet to be implemented. I do hope that H&E comes back, and that they continue to produce great shows that bring people in. They are doing great work and shouldn’t be discouraged.