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CATF has record-breaking season

By Staff | Aug 5, 2011

After setting goals for both their organizational and marketing budgets, Contemporary American Theater Festival officials can tally the totals and confirm that Season 21 was a record-breaking year for the organization.

James McNeel, director of development and marketing, said the marketing goal for this year’s festival was $400,000, and box office numbers came back earlier this week totaling $440,000, a 30 percent jump from last year’s mark.

“We obviously sold more tickets than we ever did in the past,” he said.

But the apparent increase was not in sales alone.

“What’s really exciting for me is we filled approximately 12,600 seats,” McNeel said, up from the almost 11,000 filled during the 2010 season.

But, McNeel said, that does not mean over 12,000 individual people attended the festival. Some purchase tickets to multiple shows. McNeel calculates that around 7,000 individual patrons came to this year’s festival, about 1,500 more than ever before.

McNeel said that with marquee names like David Mamet and Sam Shepard being part of the rotating repertoire, more individuals purchase single tickets to their shows. He said these “marketable names” bring in new patrons or those who have perhaps not come for years.

McNeel said while Mamet’s “Race” sold at a 91 percent capacity or 3,300 seats, one of the biggest-selling shows in CATF history, Kyle Bradstreet’s world premiere of “From Prague” sold at an 84 percent capacity.

He said this large selling capacity for Bradstreet’s show could be attributed to a few things. He said the show, held in the Center for Contemporary Arts, was the first in the four years CATF has performed in the CCA that the actors were not cast in other plays. This allowed “From Prague” to show 28 times in that space as opposed to the 17 times “White People” was shown in the same space last year.

“It gave people more of an opportunity to see all five shows,” McNeel said.

But, McNeel said, Bradstreet’s premise also intrigued the theatergoers.

“(The CCA) has built a reputation for a place a little bit out of CATF fare,” he said.

As far as the entire season’s overall success, McNeel has a few theories about that, as well.

He said last year’s buzz surrounding the festival’s 20th anniversary helped bring in people who were interested but could note fit the festival into their plans in 2010. And aside from a targeted marketing strategy and knowing how to work with the media, McNeel said the success of the large 2011 opening weekend seemed to have a trickle-down effect.

“It really helped propel us through the rest of the festival,” he said.

Moving forward, McNeel said having the season CATF is still reeling in from definitely “solidifies the organization,” but as officials prepare for the next season, they will start with a clean slate.

“We don’t bank on having another great season like this,” he said.

McNeel said there isn’t an expectation to bring back those big marquee names. He said Founder and Producing Director Ed Herendeen simply will pick what he believes are the best five plays, which will shape Season 22.

But, McNeel is confident that the festival will have repeat customers.

“If we can get people here once, we’ll get them here again,” he said. “I want the town to feel full, even more full than it did this season.”