CLARK: Asking for shows is easy, getting them not always so

pclark@modbee.comMay 25, 2013 

Maybe you've seen the Gallo Center for the Arts' lineup for the 2013-14 season; a story about the new slate of shows ran Wednesday in The Bee.

I spoke at length with Gallo Center Chief Executive Officer Lynn Dickerson, who put together the season and explained some of the trials and tribulations of gauging audience interest, dealing with agents and other the realities of booking the more than 80 separate shows that will cross the two stages for 2013-14 at the downtown performing arts venue.

It was the kind of conversation you wish more people could listen in on, because it not only answered questions about how setting up a season lineup is done, but explained some of the challenges that no one other than those working hands-on really can understand.

For instance, every year since the center opened in 2007, I've waited for Scene writer Lisa Millegan Renner to return from her meetings with Gallo Center officials about the new season schedule so I could ask her one question — one singular question — about one singular show I'm dying to see come to Modesto.

And, even though each year she's reported back about numerous wonderful shows — many of which I knew I'd be buying tickets to see — I've had my disappointment face on because of that singular omission.

Since I had the chance to talk to Dickerson myself this year about the new season, I — clearly — just had to ask that burning question: "Have you tried to book 'Wicked.' "

Well, of course she has — no surprise there. But here's the thing you find out when you ask a question like that — it's not as simple to book shows as you might actually think — especially big touring productions.

The short answer about "Wicked" is that it hasn't yet become available for the Gallo Center. Why it's not available is a bit longer of a discussion.

The wildly popular Broadway musical "Wicked" purports to tell the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West and good witch Glinda from "The Wizard of Oz."

It's one of many stage shows that find resounding success on Broadway and then split off into touring productions, usually playing multiple shows at venues across the country.

As Dickerson explained it, bringing "Wicked" to the Gallo Center — a relatively small venue compared to some other performing arts centers — remains problematic because the production hasn't been touring "split weeks."

On split weeks, a tour will play a half week of shows in one city and then the other half in a nearby city. That way, small venues that might not be able to sell enough tickets to fill their theaters for a five full shows can offer it for a shorter run.

"I really want Wicked,' " Dickerson said, but added that it's not only a risk when it comes to booking long-run Broadway productions, the shows sometimes fall through when you least expect it.

"Broadway is becoming more and more difficult for those of us on the West Coast," she said. There aren't as many venues on our side of the country presenting Broadway shows anymore, with some having gone out of business during the recent recession. Other theaters just can't pay the high price tags some tours are forced to demand to cover their costs.

"They're all coming out of New York, so it costs a lot of money to haul all that stuff, five or seven big old 18-wheeler tractor- trailer rigs full of stuff that they bring out here to do these Broadway shows," Dickerson said. "They have to get a pretty hefty nut to cover their week's expenses. So for us, we'd have to book five shows because they won't come for less."

But five nights of tickets is a lot for the Gallo Center to sell for one production. And booking Broadway shows has proved financially perilous — particularly this season, when the center struggled to sell all of the productions that came through, Dickerson said.

Compounding the issue, she said, is that Broadway is suffering, so there aren't a lot of touring productions available. The ones that are don't always work out.

For example, Dickerson said she had booked "Billy Elliot" for next March. But the touring company couldn't sign enough other dates on the West Coast to make it financially feasible, so the tour fell apart.

"Those are really disappointing because we would have loved that," she said. Similarly, a tour of "Jersey Boys" she was looking at didn't happen, either.

But at least there's hope that my singular wish will be fulfilled at some point.

" 'Wicked' is on my list," Dickerson assured me.

If you haven't already, take a look at the Gallo Center's new season lineup on www.galloarts.org. Individual ticket sales begin June 10, although subscription packages are available now, including a "build-your-own" package that allows you to choose any five shows for the coming season and purchase those tickets at a 15 percent discount.

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