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LOU'S VIEWS: Take a seat for 2010/2011

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Lou Harry

Looking out over a spectacular Indiana morning, it occurs to me that one of the biggest problems performing arts groups face when it comes to maintaining and building subscription audiences is spring weather. On a day like this, it is nearly impossible—and clearly undesirable—to project oneself into winter. But that’s what you have to do when you are considering buying a subscription package for the 2010/2011 season.

Spring is when such seasons are announced. It’s when theater, music and dance companies try to hold and excite existing subscribers while also bumping as many single-ticket buyers into higher realms of commitment—something more and more challenging in days of increased options and decreased dollars.

Decide now about seeing a play in January? Most of us aren’t sure what we are doing this weekend. Yet there are many reasons to consider claiming that seat.

For the patron, it usually comes down to dollars. As in most consumer transactions, there are discounts to be had when buying in volume (as in a whole series of shows) and when investing in advance.

But there is a less-often-considered benefit of subscribing. The more people who commit to a season, the greater the chance that the performing arts organizations will take risks. And, these days, just about anything that isn’t pre-branded is a risk.

Think about it: If you are relying entirely on single-ticket sales for earned income, the pressure is on each production to pay. That may sound reasonable if you believe the market should entirely drive the arts, but if you truly believe that, don’t complain when you see seven productions of “Annie” coming your way (not that I’m hard-knocking that cash cow). A new play or a contemporary piece of symphonic music has greater challenges finding an audience. As part of a subscription season, however, it’s guaranteed a core crowd that could make it a word-of-mouth hit.

Subscription levels also indicate a group’s strength to potential outside funders. A strong subscriber base demonstrates a commitment audiences have in arts organizations rather than just a desire to see a specific program. In other words, with a subscription, you aren’t just buying a show you want to see, you are buying into the theater itself and demonstrating your faith in it.

I’ve been devoting a fair amount of blog space (visit www.ibj.com/arts) to many of these 2010/2011 lineups in hopes of sharing my enthusiasm for things to come. An upside to this, I hope, is that more readers consider becoming subscribers. And with more subscribers, our performing arts organizations become freer to offer outstanding, less-familiar work.

Here’s some of what you can buy now and get later from some of our largest arts presenters and producers:

The Indiana Repertory Theatre has just announced a 2010/2011 lineup anchored by shows picked in part to land both its core adult ticket buyer and its large student crowd. The season opener is “Holes,” adapted by Louis Sachar from his terrific young adult novel. There’s also “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and, of course, “A Christmas Carol.” The IRT’s Going Solo festival will continue with another trio of one-person shows (including a follow-up to the popular “Pretty Fire”). The lesser-known World War II-set “Mary’s Wedding” is also in the mix, along with the Broadway (and now, off-Broadway) hit comedy “The 39 Steps,” zanily adapted from Hitchcock. The wild card is “The Gospel According to James,” a world premiere IRT commission focusing on the 1930 lynching in Marion. Get all the details at www.irtlive.com.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, with a new concert just about every weekend, has far too much programming to outline here. You can pick from big-name performers (Midori, Joshua Bell, etc.), popular composers, contemporary work (remember: The ISO premiered this year’s Pulitzer-Prize winner) or creative pops offerings (an evening with singer/comedian Wayne Brady, “Cirque de la Symphonie”). A traditional subscription includes a minimum of seven concerts. Another option starts with five performances but with discounts shifting as more seats are purchased. For details on all, visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.

Dance Kaleidoscope will open its season “Mad for Musicals” featuring rethinking of Broadway dance by choreographers David Hochoy and Nicholas Owens. January brings “the Elvis Project.” March offers “Passionate Puccini” and the season closes with “A Body Electric,” with live music by Cathy Morris. Details soon at www.dancekal.org.

Indianapolis Opera will be offering subscriptions that include “The Mikado” (bumped from last season) and two soon-to-be announced works. Watch www.indyopera.org for news.

Clowes Hall is a presenter, not a producer—and while each individual performer or group it presents has its own fan base, a subscription is the route to go for those wanting to expand their horizons. The lineup this year includes Blue Man Group, The Manhattan Transfer with John Pizzarelli, percussion ensemble Kodo, and the Joffrey Ballet. Details can be found at www.cloweshall.org.

The anchor for the Broadway in Indianapolis season is the first Indy fly-in by “Mary Poppins.” That opens a season that includes the local premieres of “Rock of Ages” and “9 to 5” and new productions of returnees “Dreamgirls” and “Grease.” Details at www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/cities/indianapolis.html. For more touring shows and acts, consider buying into a season at IU Auditorium, which is offering a one-night-only “Spring Awakening” as well as “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” and “Legally Blonde” (in case you miss it May 4-9 in Indy) as well as solo shows by David Sedaris, The Chieftains, The Cleveland Orchestra and more. Details at www.iuauditorium.com.

I wish I knew and could tell you the lineup at the new Center for the Performing Arts Center in Carmel, set to open in 2011. Stay tuned.

This is just the beginning. I’ll be announcing some schedules at www.ibj.com/arts and picking potential highlights for the season in IBJ’s Arts & Entertainment Preview in September. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the 2009/2010 season—and consider investing in the one to come.•

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This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming A&E events to lharry@ibj.com. Twitter: IBJarts.

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