Growth con­tin­ues

Years re­moved from fi­nan­cial woes, Memo­rial Opera House is still thriv­ing

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Amy Laval­ley

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.’ ”

POST-TRI­BUNE

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.

KEVIN PAZOUR PHOTO

The Memo­rial Opera House in Val­paraiso circa 1917.

KYLE TELECHAN/POST-TRI­BUNE

Memo­rial Opera House Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Scot Mac­Don­ald cred­its the suc­cess to com­mis­sion­ers’ sup­port.

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