January 24, 2008

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Building an audience
Capitol Center show Wrecked now has waiting list
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Generally, the Capitol Center for the Arts sells tickets to returning patrons or people who recognize a show title like Hairspray.

That puts staff in a predicament when they want to bring an unknown performance to the state.

They devised a solution with Wrecked. Director of marketing Ric Waldman thinks the model has great audience-building potential.

In Wrecked, 16-year-old Lyle tries to hide the fact that his mother is an alcoholic. Lyle’s realistic story is interwoven with stylized scenes of his high school classmates whose weekend parties revolve around drugs and alcohol. Those characters are a nod to the Greek chorus concept, satirizing the substance abuse going on. Waldman and two colleagues saw a reading of Wrecked at a conference last year.

“Frankly the three of us were profoundly moved,” Waldman said.

“The show really works. The characters in the show — the kids and the adults — everything that they experience rings true,” Waldman said. Wrecked isn’t “preachy” and doesn’t “talk down” to kids, Waldman said.

Other presenters had the same reaction — they wanted to bring it to the community but knew finding an audience would be tough.

The Capitol Center booked the Chris Craddock play anyway, which is produced by Roseneath Theatre of Ontario, Canada.

To fill their 1,300-seat auditorium, the Capitol Center reached out to organizations that might have an interest in a show about substance abuse.

New Futures, the Endowment for Health and the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to make 600 tickets available free to schools and families. Funders and organizations like the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Hampshire helped identify who might be interested in seeing it. Because of those efforts, there’s a waiting list for the Wednesday, Feb. 13, school show at 10 a.m. They are selling more tickets than expected to the public show, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.

“We just thought it was a great opportunity to combine the arts and raising the level of awareness of these issues ... It’s one way of getting out information on this particular topic,” said John Bunker, president of New Futures. The nonprofit works to reduce underage alcohol problems.

Karen Ager of the Endowment for Health read the script and said it really seemed to resonate with adults and teens. The Endowment for Health recently launched a funding initiative around improving mental health for children and families in the state and the play fit that initiative well. Nancy Jackson-Reno of Partnership for a Drug-Free NH said the partnership looks for opportunities to open dialog between students and peers, parents or teachers. Bringing students to a professional production in a theater that addresses a realistic situation was another benefit, Jackson-Reno said. That opportunity can be rare for schools, she said. The Partnership is a statewide media campaign.

The Capitol Center used the play in a project with Makin’ It Happen, a Manchester substance abuse awareness youth group. They read scenes and used the play to open a dialog.

“Theater as an educational tool is a very powerful way to get kids to open up and talk about things they feel,” Waldman said. They videotaped kids commenting on why people should see Wrecked and plan to use clips in public service announcements. Makin’ It Happen will offer a presentation before the Wrecked performance. The Capitol Center invited sponsors to set up information tables in the lobby after the performance.

Capitol Center for the Arts sponsors hold pre-performance receptions, often for clients, Waldman said. Wrecked sponsors invited state legislators, policy makers and other leaders to their reception. They realized they could use the social setting of a pre-show gathering to get their messages across, and reinforce it with the play, Waldman said.

The sponsors’ involvement in Wrecked has helped the Capitol Center reach out to people who might never have been to a theater. Even if ticket prices are reasonable ($12.50 and $16.50 for this show) people can still see barriers to going to a theater — or the thought just never crossed their mind, Waldman said. But if people come once, they are more likely to come back, he said.

Waldman just returned from a national booking conference by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York. The Wrecked experience “allowed us to go to the conference with a new eye for what else we might do,” Waldman said. They are still mulling over the offerings, but one example is a play that talked about the human genome project and its implications for society and healthcare — something that could be of interest to hospitals that hold those kinds of community conversations, Waldman said.


Cast members for Wrecked, produced by Canadian nonprofit Roseneath Theatre. Courtesy photo.

Just say no
What: Wrecked, by Chris Craddock
When: Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12.50-$16.50
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 South Main St., Concord, 225-1111, ccanh.com.