After taking losses, Broadway in Great Falls series down to one show this season

The Broadway in Great Falls series is a bit different this year due to a number of economic factors.

It includes just one show, Mannheim Steamroller in December.

That’s down from six shows last season in the Broadway series.

Four of the six shows last season resulted in a financial loss and the Great Falls Symphony Association and their two industry partners decided to take a step back this season in an attempt to find ways to lower costs for future seasons.

The Great Falls Symphony partners with two for-profit companies, Innovation Arts and Entertainment out of Chicago and The Roberts Group out of Indiana.

They route and market most of the Broadway shows in the region.

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“The nature of the partnership with Innovation Arts and Entertainment and the Roberts Group requires at least a small margin of profit in order to continue to bring the high-quality season lineups get every year. Our goal when planning a season is to reach a 15 percent profit margin (5 percent per partner), but often times we end up sharing 5-8 percent on a sell-out show after all expenses are paid,” said Hillary Shepherd, director of the Great Falls Symphony Association. “I’m so thankful for the partnership that the symphony has with IAE and The Roberts Group. Their connections enable us to negotiate, book, route and market high-caliber shows every year, and as a result, our community benefits in a number of ways. Our relationship with our partners remains strong even when profit margins are at times miniscule. We are all committed to finding ways to ensure that the Broadway series stays strong for years to come.”

For the 2018-2019 Broadway season, the average cost per show was $94,742.77 which included artists/show fees, theater rental, labor, printing, marketing, catering and required supplies such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and equipment rentals, Shepherd said.

That figure doesn’t include soft costs such as symphony employee time or general overhead expenses, she said.

“We just pay the bills,” she said. “We don’t factor any administrative costs in our partner settlement, and all profits and losses are split three ways.”

Ticket prices to the Broadway series are set based on known and estimated costs to present the show. Markets that are similar to Great Falls are studied in order to anticipate the number of tickets that could be sold, and then price points are determined with the goal of passing along as much savings to the patron as possible.

“With all of the variable factors at play, it can be very challenging when trying to determine what will work for Great Falls and what won’t,” Shepherd said. “Last season was perhaps a bit too large for our community to support.”

Shepherd said she’d love to bring in shows such as The Lion King or Wicked, but the current requirements for those shows far exceed the community’s ability to meet.

When Shepherd looked into bringing The Lion King to Great Falls two years ago, the show required a two-week residency with nightly shows, and since Great Falls struggles to sell out Broadway presentations with two shows, Shepherd said it would be virtually impossible to make something like The Lion King work at this point. The size of a community is a huge a factor in determining which shows are able to come.

Great Falls still regularly outperforms other Montana cities, including Missoula, Billings and Bozeman, for most Broadway shows, Shepherd said.

“Our community may be smaller than other Montana cities, but we are mighty when it comes to supporting the arts,” she said.

There are a number of misconceptions about the Symphony in the community, she said.

The symphony is not funded by city tax dollars and doesn’t own the Mansfield Theater.

“We pay rent and fees like everybody else. The Great Falls Symphony is a registered 501(c)(3) that relies on community support for survival,” Shepherd said. “Only about a third of our overall revenue comes from ticket sales. It can sometimes feel daunting when we have to rely so heavily on fundraisers, grants and sponsorships to meet our revenue goals when approximately 60 percent of our expenses come from salaries, including a core of nine professional musicians.”

The Great Falls Symphony is unique in Montana in that it is the only one with a paid core of professional musicians.

That cost can’t be reduced without cutting staff and professional musicians.

“That’s something I don’t ever want to see happen,” Shepherd said. “The symphony is committed to hiring professional musicians for the purpose of raising the overall artistic quality of the orchestra and to serve as ambassadors and educators of music in the community.”

Music education in schools is also a critical component for ensuring the survival of the symphony in years to come. It’s where children develop a love of music, particularly orchestral music, and without it, Shepherd said the symphony would suffer greatly.

The Broadway series and Symphony season help drive tourism for Great Falls, which generates revenue for the city-owned Mansfield Theater and local businesses. People often times go out for dinner and drinks before or after a show and some out of town visitors will stay in hotels and shop.

The symphony sold 17,000 tickets to various shows including the Broadway series during the 2017-2018 season with an estimated 20 percent of those ticket sales coming from patrons who live out of town, which could generate an estimated $1 million in local tourism dollars if they all stayed the night, ate and shopped according to tourism data. Tickets sales generated about $122,000 for the Mansfield Theater through ticketing fees, convenience fees, credit card fees, merchandise sales, rent and labor fees, according to the symphony.

During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, the Mansfield Box Office issued a total of 32,227 tickets, grossing $927,112 in sales, according to city budget documents.

The city is currently reviewing the fee structure for the theater and convention center and those proposed changes will likely come before the City Commission later this year.

According to the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 study conducted by Americans for the Arts, a national arts nonprofit, the “nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity during 2015—$63.8 billion in spending by arts and cultural organizations and an additional $102.5 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences. This activity supported 4.6 million jobs and generated $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments (a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations).”

The study was the fifth by Americans for the Arts and documented the economic contributions for the arts in 341 communities and regions across the country, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The participating communities, including Missoula, ranged in population from 1,500 to 4 million and included rural, suburban, and urban areas: 113 cities and 115 counties, 81 multi-city or multi-county regions, 20 statewide study areas, and 12 cultural districts.

Americans for the Arts also released a Creative Industries: Business and Employment in the Arts report with data current as of April 2017 that found 147 arts related businesses in Cascade County that employed 629 people. That represented 3 percent of the total businesses in the county and 1.1 percent of the people they employ.

For Mannheim Steamroller this year, tickets are available on a first come, first served basis. Next year, Broadway season ticketholders from the 2018-2019 season will have the opportunity to renew their same seats.

Mannheim Steamroller tickets went on sale to the general public on July 26 and are available by visiting or calling the Mansfield Box Office at 406-455-8514 or online here.

The Symphony season has been released and more information, as well as tickets, are available here.

The Symphony’s Chamber Music series information and tickets are also available now here.