For more than 20 years, I’ve worked with venues such as the State Theatre of Modesto (571 seats), Wente Vineyards in Livermore (1,750 seats), California Great Adventure (10,000 seats), the Lake Tahoe Music Festival (3,000 seats), the Rio Casino in Las Vegas (3,000 seats) and countless other venues up and down the West Coast.
A few of the cities I now work with include Danville, San Ramon, Livermore, Oakley, Fremont, Walnut Creek and Dublin. While my company is based in Livermore, I am a five-year resident of Tracy.
The State Theatre of Modesto is a lot like the Grand Theatre, and it does get bigger names and has shown how a theater of its stature can be profitable. The theater gets no support from the city of Modesto and relies on a volunteer board and a small staff to pull it all off. I am contracted to provide all the programming but also assist with production and marketing.
Here are a few suggestions that would be of huge financial benefit to the Grand: •
• First of all, the theater should hire a company to help with programming, production, marketing and sponsorship development. This could provide opportunities and build relationships with agents to get greater access to bigger and better acts for less money.
My 20-plus years of professional experience tells me that the Grand hasn’t done the best job in developing the right programming philosophy for the theater.
Additionally, the consultant hired from the Mondavi Center that was written about in the Tracy Press (“Tracing Tracy Territory: Keeping the Grand Theatre open,” Aug. 29) didn’t seem to have relevant ideas about the theater. The Grand has a completely different situation, and “modeling the Mondavi Center” would not fix its problems.
• There needs to be much greater outreach beyond the city of Tracy.
Is there even a marketing plan in place? Does staff have a proven track record of success in marketing ticketed shows?
There is so much that could be developed in the area of trade agreements with regional and local radio, cable and print (in addition to the Press).
The Bankhead Theatre in Livermore and has huge trade agreements with media outlets all throughout the East Bay to promote its shows. The Grand Theatre should have that as well. Everyone located within a radius of 60 miles from Tracy should know what’s being offered by the Grand.
• Consider outsourcing more of the labor at the theater to avoid expensive annual salaries and benefits packages. The State Theatre works with one full-time employee and a number of part-time employees who are called in as needed. It’s very lean and mean. Additionally, it has a very active volunteer board of directors as well as various committees.
• Continue and expand the fundraising activities of the theater to go beyond raising cash — they should also raise awareness to inform residents and out-of-town guests about the theater’s offerings.
Recently, the State Theatre of Modesto had an annual gala that raised close to $200,000 in one evening and helped nurture relationships with community and business leaders.
• It might be worth hosting more free events at the theater, such as mixers and other “exposure” events, to just get people inside the doors.
• Create corporate sponsorship programs that are based on a return on investment of at least a 3-to-1 ratio to encourage more community support from local and regional businesses.
No one has the money to give handouts these days. These programs need to show actual benefits that can be measured.
• Create a publicity campaign in which you use higher-profile performances to reach into new residential areas beyond Tracy.
Why would a newspaper outside Tracy want to discuss something at the Grand Theatre unless it seemed relevant? That goes back to creating the right mix of programming that actually has the ability to draw people.
It’s also worth mentioning that higher-profile performances don’t always cost a huge amount of money if booked correctly. Many do, but theaters are often pitched routed dates that are extremely inexpensive, considering the level of talent.
• Finally, should the Grand Theater become a nonprofit? My suggestion would be yes.
• Jim Douglas is a resident of Tracy and a member of Prime Time Entertainment Inc. of Livermore, which consults with entertainment venues throughout California.