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When did we start going to the theater again? [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]
[March 01, 2014]

When did we start going to the theater again? [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]

(Naples Daily News (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 01--Inside the halls of Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers, staff once referred to September as "Death-tember." No more.

The 2013-14 season opened last fall with the two-person comedy "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!" and seats have been full ever since.

"The phones are always so busy now," Broadway Palm marketing director Melissa Vogt said last week. "I couldn't even find a line to call out on." The souffle-simple comedy "Nana's Naughty Knickers" opened Jan. 16. The entire eight-week run sold out four days later for the 100-seat theater.

"That has never happened as long as I've been here," Vogt said. "It's amazing." Broadway Palm added matinees. Sold out. Actors now perform 10 shows a week, with audiences lining up for the antics of a goofy granny running a lingerie shop for the geriatric set from her rent-controlled New York City pad.

It's not just the Broadway Palm.

Witness that "TICKET NEEDED" sign outside Jay Leno last month at Artis -- Naples. And the sold-out Renee Fleming concert. Locals scooped up more than 3,600 tickets for comedian Dave Chappelle -- filling up Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall twice -- within 48 hours of the venue announcing his recent stop in Fort Myers.

When did Southwest Florida start going to the theater again? "It has to be a show people want to see," Vogt answered.

Vogt attributes Broadway Palm's success not just to the stronger economy and higher tourism numbers, but to better marketing and show selection.

She points to the recent hit "The Sound of Music," which closed its run with 91 percent of all its tickets sold, as well as last year's crowd-pleasing girl-power blockbuster "Menopause The Musical.

"We've got amazing titles," Vogt said.

She said "Menopause" catapulted Broadway Palm into a new market and brought newer and younger audiences into the theater.

Two years ago, Broadway Palm also began reaching out to customers via social media, key to reaching younger customers. The theater has an active Facebook page and an Instagram account. Vogt keeps the theater's Facebook page open on her desktop during the workday.

Vogt posted a photo of the current show "Les Miserables"; it was shared 230 times and an estimated 12,000 people saw the post.

"At the end of the day, it's about the shows," Scott Saxon, general manager of Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, agreed.

"If you have what they want to see, people will come." Saxon pointed to the nontraditional musical "Once," which rode outstanding word-of-mouth and solid reviews to sell almost 90 percent of all its tickets. The upcoming play "War Horse," backed by an advertising campaign (and the Steven Spielberg movie), already has sold three of every four tickets before the show even opens March 11.

"It's an indicator that people are feeling more stable and comfortable," Saxon said of folks' willingness to spend money on entertainment.

TheatreZone in Naples produces a steady diet of musicals, musicals and more musicals. Producing artistic director Mark Danni decided on "a season of composers," with Cole Porter, Andrew Lloyd Webber and more; he wanted shows where patrons could find something familiar at a glance.

The strategy paid off. TheatreZone audiences like the shows and keep coming back for more. Three shows into the season, Danni has three sellouts.

He added matinees to "Whistle Down the Wind" and "High Society;" the Cold War musical "Chess" started a waiting list in January.

"Word-of-mouth is the best," Danni said. "When people come to TheatreZone for the first time they come up to me and say 'I'll be back.'" Smart scheduling and clever marketing fill seats at Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, Marketing & Audience Services Coordinator Maura Lohan said.

Current farce "The Game's Afoot" is sold out through next week.

"We always have a comedy in February," Lohan said. "People are down here. They want to see a comedy." Next season will see Christopher Durang comedy "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" in late January/early February and David Ives comedy "The Liar" in April, Lohan said.

Theatre season usually ends after Easter -- April 20 this year -- for most companies.

___ (c)2014 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) Visit the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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