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Box office sales up at Playhouse

The Flat Rock Playhouse has staged plenty of smash hits and logged successful seasons throughout its 52-year-history.

But in recent years it has not often been able to report solid success on the balance sheet. So far this year, it has.
Through the first three months of the 2015 season, the two shows on the Main Stage and three at the Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown all have met or exceeded the budgeted goal.
“Among the comments that we’ve been getting starting with ‘Elvis’ is people saying, ‘It’s so nice to see all the cars in the parking lot,’” said Lisa K. Bryant, the artistic director of the theater. “That’s good for business, too. (People say) ‘Oh, what’s going on? I want to be a part of it.’”
In an interview last week, Bryant and Marketing Director Dane Whitlock emphasized that the strong box office numbers over 11 weeks does not guarantee a successful summer. But the manager and the marketer do think they’re seeing results from a simple yet in recent years often neglected strategy: listening to the audience.
“This is a little bit of a litmus test this season,” she said.
This year’s lineup is heavy on the familiar.

Sales up at Flat Rock Playhouse

‘Music of ABBA,’ 108 percent of goal.
Frankie Valli, 133 percent of goal
Elvis tribute, 100 percent of goal.
‘Wizard of Oz,’ 194 percent of goal.
‘Always … Patsy Cline,’ 108 percent of goal.

“An Authentic Heart and Soul Tribute to The King” and “Always … Patsy Cline” in Flat Rock and the “Wizard of Oz,” “Music of ABBA” and Frankie Valli and Four Seasons tribute in downtown Hendersonville have rocked the box office. While the Elvis show made goal, the “Wizard of Oz” young people’s production blew out the gate, almost doubling the budget projection. The Patsy Cline show surpassed an aggressive goal, coming in at xx percent.
“Patsy Cline is such a strong word of mouth show,” Whitlock said. “As soon as people started seeing Jacqueline (Petroccia) and Linda (Edwards) in this amazing show it filled up. Yesterday (a Wednesday) we had 390…. “ Sales director Pam Collins “had nine motor coaches out there for one show.”
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Gypsy,” “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Oliver!” are feel-good shows theater patrons have heard of. The theater has had rocky times financially since the death in 2008 of Robin Farquhar, the son of founder Robroy Farquhar. It still has $1.8 million in debt.
“We are paying our bills,” Bryant said.
The theater’s board and its management are also turning to the audience to shape next year’s season.
Bryant, who first came to the Playhouse as an apprentice in mid-‘90s, knew that audience feedback had in the past been an important part of play selection.
“I remember in Robin’s time they would put inserts in the program and ask people to check ones that they were interested in and drop them in a box on their way out,” she said. “It’s that that made me go, ‘Oh, we should do that again.’”
Thanks to programs like Survey Money, the theater is able to reach a much larger audience, including patrons who may have skipped plays for several years.
“’To Kill A Mockingbird’ is the no. 1 title that came back,” Bryant said of a new survey the Playhouse is using to help pick 2016 season. The Playhouse last staged it in 1998, with Peter Thomasson as Atticus Fitch. “All the MOTR shows (Music on the Rock) we’re doing this summer came from that list. Every show we picked came in on the Top 10 of that list. I’m hoping that MOTR again next year will be 100 percent audience choice and feedback. Right now the major musicals that we’re discussing are totally audience feedback. ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ came in very high so now we’re talking about that one. That’s a little bit us trying to say, ‘Here we are. We’re trying to have this dialog with you. We want to be of service to you.’”
While Bryant says a mix of talent has always accounted for audience appeal, the Playhouse is likely to benefit, too, from familiar faces coming back. Among the Playhouse vagabonds returning for roles or off-stage duties in Flat Rock this year are
Paige Posey, Barbara Bradshaw, Thomasson, Edwards, Marcy McGuigan,
Amy Jones, Scott Treadway, Klea Blackhurst, Preston Dyar, Jason Edwards, Dave Hart and Bill Munoz.

Like other nonprofits in the arts, Playhouse got a 10 percent cut but still received $45,000 from the Board of Commissioners. This year’s playbill contains a full-page ad thanking the county commissioners, Hendersonville City Council, Flat Rock Village Council and the Tourism Development Authority for contributing to the Playhouse.
“We owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” Bryant said. “Without that support I don’t think we’d be here right now. I think we would have closed two years ago.”
Financially and in public perception, Bryant said, the Playhouse is working to recover.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “One of the things we keep saying (to the staff and actors) is when you make a decision, is your decision best for you or is it best for the Playhouse. And if you can’t say that it’s best for the Playhouse then that’s not a decision you should be making. I believe right now everybody is on that message.”