Years removed from financial woes, Memorial Opera House is still thriving
After a rough patch a few years ago that left county officials wondering if the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso was financially viable, the facility has seen an upswing in sold-out shows, season ticket holders and the creation of a children’s theater program.
In a recent email to Porter County commissioners, who oversee the 125-year-old structure built after the Civil War, Executive Director Scot MacDonald touted the theater’s year-end numbers for this year over the past few years.
Year over year, the opera house has more than doubled its revenue of ticket sales revenue from 2013 through the end of this year, MacDonald said. In 2013, the opera house sold around $35,000 in season tickets. Season ticket sales this year are at $79,960, compared with $60,336 last year.
Ticket sales were projected at $355,453.59 for this year, compared with $301,664.30 last year and $229,622.50 in 2013.
Additionally, the opera house started the LimeLights children’s theater program two years ago. The growth there has been exponential as well, bringing in $2,500 in 2016, the first year of the program; $5,785 in 2017; and a projected $14,336 this year.
MacDonald credited the success to commissioners’ unwavering support, but they returned the kind words.
“When we envisioned a program of success six years ago, there were many who didn’t think it possible. I thank them as well as our supporters for giving us a chance,” said Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South. “Scot’s leadership along with the hard work and dedication of his staff and the MOH Foundation have
made our vision an absolute reality. The opera house is a bastion for the arts as well as history in our community. I’m thrilled to see our gem shine again.”
Three years ago, MacDonald said, the opera house “hit that tipping point where it was like, what do we do and how do we get patrons vested here.”
The result was a patron survey to find out what the community wanted to see, as well as cutting back from seven shows a year to five to focus on better quality productions, said MacDonald, who started at the opera house in 2012 as office manager, was named as artistic director a short time later, and became executive director in 2016.
“We’re giving people what they want and upping the quality,” he said, adding the results of that survey still come into play as the opera house selects its productions. “It gave us a really clear picture of what the top shows are that people want to see.”
The opera house also put together a selection com- mittee, composed of audience members, volunteers and community representatives, to help select shows, which have come to include a mix of classics and newer works. Next year will bring “Shrek the Musical” and “Mamma Mia” to the opera house stage.
The opera house is also bringing in a younger crowd, MacDonald said, adding many of its new season ticket holders are under age 40, and the LimeLights program is building a lifelong interest in the performing arts in children.
“I’ve always believed a love of theater starts at a very young age and builds lifelong interest, commitment and support,” he said.
The “Lunchtime Cabaret” series, as well as occasional concerts, also bring an increasingly diverse crowd into the venue, and MacDonald expects the opera house’s strong sales and success to continue.
“Next year is trending the same way,” he said. “We’re already talking about extending ‘S h re k ’ and ‘Mamma Mia.’ ”
The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso features local and national acts in a historic setting. The 125-year-old structure was built after the Civil War.
The Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso circa 1917.
Memorial Opera House Executive Director Scot MacDonald credits the success to commissioners’ support.