State Theater closing gap on expenses

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Ticket sales up in 2012 as country music proves to be a draw

By Marty Finley

The Historic State Theater is edging closer to the break-even point as it attempts to steer more live concerts and performances to Elizabethtown.

Executive Director Emily West presented a report to Elizabethtown City Council this week showing a significant boost in revenue that is cutting deeper into the expenses needed to run the facility.

The theater recorded $290,671 in revenue last year compared to expenses of $297,496, a difference of $6,825.

While still running on a shortfall, the theater has started to close gaps from 2010 and 2011, when expenses exceeded income by $21,000 to $25,000.

The theater’s number of rentals increased from 180 in 2011 to 200 last year, but rental income dipped slightly from $68,560 two years ago to $67,756.

Yet the theater recorded a significant boost in ticket sale income, jumping from $92,362 to $106,031, according to West’s report. West said the theater recorded a 50 percent increase in concert ticket sales from roughly $46,900 in 2011 to more than $70,000 last year.

Concessions and sales also grew from $23,730 in 2011 to $26,901 last year. The city’s reimbursement bumped slightly from $68,750 to $71,443.

West attributed the success to an increase in guests and events. In 2010 and 2011, 33 events were hosted at the State Theater, but 44 were booked in 2012, including 24 movies, seven concerts, six comedy shows, two dinner theaters, one personal appearance and a couple of theater productions.

The number of guests jumped from 8,532 in 2011 to 8,792 in 2012, according to the report.

West said she sees room for growth but said the theater is not simply a source of potential income. It also is a partner in revitalizing downtown, a venue for artists and fans of the arts to showcase their work and an interactive marketing tool for the city, she said.

Asked what attracts crowds to the 650-seat venue, West said country music is a proven seller and is more affordable than the latest top 40 acts or classic rock groups. Visits by country artists John Anderson and Casey James proved fruitful, and West said she would like to attract other acts in the genre, such as Ronnie Milsap and Diamond Rio.

On the expense side, payroll clocked in at more than $127,000 and more than $81,000 was spent on performance expenses. The theater also accrued around $25,000 in utilities, nearly $12,000 in concession costs, $8,000 in movie-related expenses and nearly $8,500 in building maintenance.

The report showed movie ticket sales fell from $28,000 two years ago to just more than $16,000 last year despite the uptick in total ticket sales. West said the drop occurred for multiple reasons, including a slash in ticket prices from $5 to $3 and the lack of profitability in movie viewings.

Some council members asked if it was cost prohibitive to show newer movies. West affirmed this notion but also said the theater’s projector, screen and sound system are not suitable to show the latest in cinema, which often pack 3-D visuals and monumental sound effects onto a larger screen.

“New movies have incredible sound,” she said.

The theater, too, lacks the sound panels needed to successfully muffle the echo created by larger movies, which is why many of the shows the venue books are acoustic.

West said she often has to rent additional speakers for performances. Councilman Marty Fulkerson suggested the city shop around to determine if it should invest in more sound equipment compared to recurring rentals. West already has done so and said it would cost $60,000 to $90,000 without the expense of sound panel installation.

Sponsorships also dropped from $9,375 to $7,899 and West said she should probably do more to push for that money, though she said she is taking all available steps to market the theater.

“I do as much as I possibly can,” she said.

Councilman Kenny Lewis, former organizer for the city’s Summer Concert Series at Freeman Lake Park, said West has done well in attracting entertaining acts with limited resources. Should she pursue larger names for the theater, she would have to charge inflated prices for each seat to cover costs, he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.