By Daniel Silliman
All the seats in the house should have been full. But they weren't because of the economy.
When the Impressions came to Clayton County and the Performing Arts Center last month, they put on a first-rate show, the sort of show that once would have drawn a substantial audience. Those who were there enjoyed it, but receipts from nights like that have left investors apprehensive.
"It's a problem across the country," said Anita Lloyd, director of the Clayton Performing Arts Center. "When people are losing their jobs, theater is the last thing they're thinking about."
Lloyd said the center is working to overcome economic struggles with creative and collaborative strategies. "The economy is affecting theater attendance," Lloyd said. "Investors are very apprehensive right now. They're waiting for the economy to go back up, but we're being very creative."
The Performing Arts Center is working to boost theater attendance by advertising, and some of the ads are paid for by an exchange of service, not costing the center anything. The center also is in the process of putting up a billboard on the property, which will advertise coming shows to the thousands who travel Interstate 75.
Lloyd said another strategy, to increase ticket sales, is to be more creative in booking. "We have such a diverse community," Lloyd said. "We have 44 languages spoken in Clayton ... I am constantly working on bringing new shows, new, creative shows, and shows that haven't been in a while."
Children's shows targeted at area students, in particular, seem to fare well during downturns, and Lloyd said she's looking at a musical version of "Charlotte's Web," based on the beloved book by E.B. White, and a number of productions of works by Shakespeare.
The center is also seeking to lower the cost of shows, making them affordable even if they only bring in a mid-sized audience. "Block booking," where multiple theaters all book the same show, is one way Lloyd is using collaboration to bring down costs.
"We're working with several theaters in the area, and I always try to book shows together with them to cut down on the price of the show ... The Henry Players called me just yesterday, and they are going to present a children's show, and so we will be working with them to make a contract successful for both of us," Lloyd said.
The Clayton County Performing Arts Center also is trying to cut costs by coming up with more creative contracts with performers. The creative contracts have included splitting house receipts, or letting shows rent the facility and take the receipts.
"Whatever we have to do," Lloyd said. "Our objective is to bring the best shows in this area."
Looking at one of the three theaters at the Performing Arts Center, after the Impressions performed, Clayton County School Superintendent John Thompson said he really wanted to get more people into the center's shows.
"This is a very nice facility," Thompson said. "The people of this county need to use it more."