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Box Office Blues?

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There's always talk about what's wrong with the L.A. theatre scene, why audiences are sometimes sparse and fickle, how difficult it is to compete with other entertainment options, how tough it is to get funding--but where are the solutions? Theatre LA president and CEO Lee Wochner found himself asking the same questions a year ago when presented with the findings of a research study on performing arts. Said Wochner, "I thought to myself, Theatre LA should do a conference for the performing arts. I know there are solutions out there, and if we can bring a lot of these people together, we'll learn the solutions from each other."

This month the idea of a business conference for theatre makers will become a reality. Held May 20 and 21 at California Institute of the Arts, the conference will look at the practical side of keeping a theatre afloat. Called "Strategically Revitalizing Your Organization for Bigger Box Office and a Bolder Bottom Line," the conference will address such issues as advertising, marketing, budgeting, fundraising, and development.

"My vision of theatre in L.A. is that it's too well kept a secret," said Wochner. "We've got great art on our stages. We just don't have enough people going to see it. So our initial conference is about how you get more people in there and how you make effective use of your resources to accommodate more audiences and accommodate them better."

Keynote speakers Alfred Molina and Don Cheadle will also address conference-goers. Molina spoke with Back Stage West about some of the challenges he sees facing L.A. theatre--challenges that will be addressed at the May conference. Said Molina, "My first agent in L.A., when he asked me what I wanted to do when I arrived here, I said, 'Well, I want to do film and TV, but I want to keep my theatre work up.' And he looked at me when I said 'theatre' and smiled slightly, and with a rather patronizing tone in his voice said, 'Theatre. Hmmm. Why advertise the fact that you're out of work?' That's very much the current thinking, unfortunately. L.A. is not regarded as one of the great theatre-making centers of America, but actually it is. There is an amazing amount of theatre created in L.A. But it's always been a second cousin to film and TV, so this conference is a good opportunity to reassert the fact that theatre in L.A. is alive and very vibrant."

Asked what he felt the solution was in changing the perceptions about L.A. theatre, Molina replied, "I wouldn't be so arrogant as to suggest that I know what the solution is. But one of the ways in which we can improve things--as theatre-makers and theatregoers, as creative people--is by doing everything we can to make the theatregoing as exciting and normal and as regular a gig as possible for people in L.A." Theatre LA's conference is designed to help theatre makers do just that.

The conference will be held at California Institute of the Arts, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia, CA. Tickets start at $115 for Theatre LA members, $145 for non-members. To register, visit www.theatrela.org or call (213) 614-0556, ext. 821.

The event is sponsored by California Institute of the Arts, Arts Consulting Group, Back Stage West, the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles Times, SeatAdvisor, and the University of Southern California Arts Initiative and School of Theatre.

A complete schedule follows:

Monday, May 20: A Bolder Bottom Line

8:30-9:30 a.m.--Breakfast & Registration

9:30-9:50 a.m.--Welcoming remarks, Lee Wochner, president & CEO Theatre LA

10-11:10 a.m.--Green Track: Strategic Planning for Gold, Bruce Thibodeau, Arts Consulting Group

Blue Track: Blockbuster Budgeting: Budgeting for Dynamic Organizational Growth, Jeb Bonner, Arts Consulting Group

11:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.--Green Track: Budgeting Bootcamp: Budgeting Basics for Better Business," Jeb Bonner, Arts Consulting Group

Blue Track: Plan-tastic!, Bruce Thibodeau, Arts Consulting Group

12:40-1:50 p.m.--Lunch & Keynote Address

Welcome remarks by Margie Johnson Reese, general manager, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Dept.

Keynote address and Q&A with Alfred Molina

2-3:10 p.m.--Green Track: Fundraising Toolkit: Laying the Foundation for Fundraising, Al Choy, managing director, East West Players, and Bill Rauch, artistic director, Cornerstone Theater Company

Blue Track: Learning the Art of Persuasive Proposals: The Art of Grant Writing, Paula Holt, chair, Theatre LA; Renae Williams, grants manager, Los Angeles County Arts Commission; Cate Foltin, executive director, Theatre Bay Area; Alan Ziter, executive director, San Diego Performing Arts League, and Ray Tatar, theatre administrator, California Arts Council

3:20?4:30 p.m.--Green Track: Is That Ticket-Buyer Your Next Donor? Ask!: Seizing Opportunities, Barbara Beckley, producing director, Colony Theatre Company

Blue Track: The Name on the Wall: The Architecture of Fundraising, Dennis Slon, associate vice chancellor of development, UCLA; Mark Thoreson, vice president for advancement and external affairs, CalArts; Brian Colburn, general manager, Pasadena Playhouse, and Kathleen Macomber, director of development, USC School of Fine Arts

4:40?5:50 p.m.--Round Table Session: Question-and-answer sessions with experts on such topics as corporate sponsorship, donor prospecting, effective grant stewardship, legal issues, and board development

6-8 p.m.--Gala Opening Reception. Meet and mingle with guests, panelists, presenters, and friends new and old in the theatre community

More Monday evening events to be announced.

Tuesday, May 21: A Bigger Box Office

8:30-9:30 a.m.--Breakfast & Registration

9:30-9:40 a.m.--Welcoming remarks, Lee Wochner, president & CEO Theatre LA

9:40-9:50--Opening address, Mark Murphy, artistic director REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)

10-11:10 a.m.--Green Track: Marketing 101: Who Are You and Why Are You Here? Michael McDowell, associate vice president, external affairs, CalArts

Blue Track: Selling in the Cyber Age: How To Tap Into Your Audience With Your Fingertips, Brian Kite, CEO, Saline Solutions and founding member, Buffalo Nights Theatre Company; Jim Royce, director of marketing, Center Theatre Group; Jonathon Seigle, vice president of sales, SeatAdvisor Inc., and Lee Wochner, president & CEO, Theatre LA and co-founder, Moving Arts

11:20 a.m.-12:30 p.m.--Green Track: Marketing on a Shoestring: Exploring the Terrain Beyond Postcards & Fliers, Dan Harper, director of marketing, Theatre LA; Cathy Carlton, member, Theatre of NOTE; Eleanor Albano, principal, Creative Directions

Blue Track: Name Your Niche: Targeting Young & Diverse Audiences, Todd Schultz, director of marketing, Los Angeles Opera; Robin Lithgow, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Debra Pasquerette, education director, Geffen Playhouse

12:40-1:50 p.m.--Lunch & Keynote Address

Welcome remarks, Rob Kendt, editor-in-chief, Back Stage West

Keynote address by Don Cheadle with Q&A

2-3:10 p.m.--Meet The Press, Larry Aldrich, principal, Aldrich & Associates, and vice-chair, Theatre LA; Rob Kendt, editor-in-chief, Back Stage West; Lee Melville, editor, LA Stage, and Julio Martinez, reviewer, Daily Variety and La Opinion

3:20-4:30 p.m.--Green Track: Who's Next Door? Building Local, Loyal Audiences, Susan Obrow, assistant producer, Ahmanson Theatre

Blue Track: Understanding Your Audience: Who Are They & Why Are The Here? Jim Royce, director of marketing, Center Theatre Group

4:40-5:50 p.m. Meet the Audience, Lars Hansen, executive director, Office of Cultural Relations, USC, and audience members from local theatres

6-8 p.m. Closing Reception

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