Same show, different audiences: Community theater groups say schedule overlaps unintentional

SPECIAL
Le Chat Noir opens its season Sept. 13 with Les Miserables, presenting the musical seven times. The Augusta Players will present the show three times Sept. 27-29.
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The must-see play you always wanted to catch on stage comes to town – but you miss it. Chances are you could have a second chance to see it when another group performs the same play.

For the Augusta area’s nonprofessional theater groups, scheduling play seasons isn’t an easy task. Many factors go into deciding on shows that suit their audience and performers. Then, the groups must try to avoid a show that the other theatrical troupes are staging.

Sometimes, conflicts are inevitable with so many groups in town wanting to stage the most popular shows, the groups say.

In September, two local theaters will stage the musical Les Miserables. Le Chat Noir, a 100-seat theater on Eighth Street, will stage the show for seven nights beginning Sept. 13. The Augusta Players opens its 69th season with the musical Sept. 27.

When the licensing group Music Theatre International released the rights for Les Miserables, Le Chat Noir and The Augusta Players said they both acted quickly to book the play and pay for the rights. The groups publicly announced they were adding the play to their season within hours of each other.

Both said they had waited years for Les Miserables to become available. Because it is such a popular show, neither group expects the poor timing to affect box office sales.

“I honestly don’t feel it’s going to be a problem for them or us,” said Debbie Ballas, the director of The Augusta Players.

Krys Bailey, the executive director of Le Chat Noir, said: “We expect we will sell out. That’s the only reason I’m not upset.”

Other groups have overlapped shows, too. This spring, Aiken Community Playhouse and Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre put on the farce Fox on the Fairway just weeks apart. On Sept. 6, the Aiken theater opens its season with Hairspray, which The Augusta Players presented the past two seasons.

Music Theatre Interna­tional does not make any restrictions on selling rights to more than one amateur theater, said customer service representative Tralen Doler, who serves Georgia. For professional theaters, it limits the rights to one theater in a 100-mile radius.

After a popular play finishes a national tour, the rights are typically sold first to large, well-known regional theaters. The next season, the rights are released to other professional theaters followed by amateur groups, Doler said.

Better coordination of schedules might not be possible, the Augusta groups say. They communicate as needed and search Web sites and Facebook pages before making decisions, most say.

“We absolutely think about other groups,” said Cathy Traver, who served as the play-selection chairwoman for Aiken Community Playhouse the past two seasons.

“We do have crossover that we try to avoid, but if it’s a big show and the audience will be well-served, we will do it,” Traver said.

The Aiken group has a committee that reviews shows submitted by its approved directors and ticket subscribers, Traver said. The process begins at least 12 months before each season.

Ballas submits recommendations for the season to the Augusta Players’ board of directors before final decisions are made. She factors into the decision what shows were done in the past, what patrons want to see and performers want to stage, marketability and diversity.

Steve Walpert, the director of Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre, said he reads lots of plays and tries to pick new, fresh shows for his audience. He browses Web sites of local groups to crosscheck schedules.

Fox on the Fairway was a play he had wanted to do for years, and decided to go forward with it when the conflict arose with the Aiken staging, he said. It did affect his ticket sales.

“None of us want to steal someone else’s thunder,” Walpert said.

Although the groups don’t try to compete, they must make smart business decisions when a show will be popular at the box office, Walpert said.

Doler, the Music Theatre International representative, said they try to sell as many rights as possible. It’s up to local groups to discuss seasons and avoid overlap.

“That’s a conversation to have inside your community,” he said.

The cost for play rights varies greatly and is based on a percentage of box office sales. Ticket prices and estimated attendance are used to calculate the cost that a theater pays upfront, Doler said. Prices can be $1,000 or more.

After buying the rights, Music Theatre International allows a theater to cancel a show with a refund minus a $50 fee.

ONSTAGE

Aiken Community Playhouse: (803) 648-1438, aikencommunityplayhouse.com

The Augusta Players: (706) 826-4707, augustaplayers.org

Edgefield County Theatre Company: (803) 637-3833, edgefieldtheatre.wordpress.com

Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre: (706) 791-4389, fortgordon.com/theatre.php

Le Chat Noir: (706) 722-3322, lcnaugusta.com


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