The Village Playhouse hit a few rough spots in the road when the economic downturn hit. “There was a time just before last Christmas when we had to tighten our belts,” Producing Artistic Director Keely Enright says. “Everyone was scared, and we lost donors and sponsors.” The best way to make up the financial shortfall was to put out more product, using box office revenue to help pay the bills. “If that’s all we had to bring in revenue, that’s what we’d use.”
In response, shows ran for four weeks instead of three, maximizing the marketing for each play and giving word-of-mouth plenty of time to spread. Hot on the heels of Piccolo Spoleto, the theater stayed open throughout the summer, presenting three full productions and a one-man show.
The choice paid off, audiences kept coming, and Enright says the company has experienced “large growth.” Returns on membership are high and ticket sales are good. The downside: Enright and husband/co-founder Dave Reinwald have forgotten what a day off looks like. “We’ve been working our tails off to keep the doors open,” she says.
Although the output has gone up, the quality of the shows at the Village Playhouse hasn’t suffered, thanks to Enright and Reinwald’s insistence on varying their line-up. A mix of classic 20th Century dramas, musicals, and comedies keeps the company and the audiences energized (Awake and Sing, Mauritius, Shipwrecked). “We try to be as diverse as possible,” says Enright. “Personally, I love drama, and people get weary of too much contemporary theater — sometimes they just want to have a good time and be enlivened.”
Enright also knows there’s a constant market for musicals. “Two years ago, we did four major musicals in an 18-month period. It was exhausting.” Although the shows were good for the box office and received great feedback from theatergoers, Enright knew she had to provide more variety to avoid creative stagnation.
While this tactic of giving audience members what they want — but not too much of it — has paid off, the company has been reexamining its marketing strategy. As newspapers got thinner and media coverage lessened, Enright felt that theater was getting less attention than it deserved. “While I understand that editors focus on what’s interesting and what’s relevant, there isn’t an understanding by the general media that live theater is important.” Rather than garnering attention through press previews and reviews, the Playhouse has placed more emphasis on grassroots marketing and online avenues like Facebook.