Successful act

Three years in, theater making a profit and bringing in big names

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Drew Tanner, left, marketing director for the Peoples Bank Theatre, and Hunt Brawley, executive director, stand on the stage looking out over the 940-seat Victorian era downtown performing arts venue. In its three years since restoration, the theater has established a solid audience and now can attract nationally renowned performers.

Three years since a major restoration of the Colony Hippodrome theater downtown, the venue – the Peoples Bank Theatre – is feeling success as the 1919 vintage building nears its 100th anniversary.

This season’s performers have included top-line acts such as The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Keb Mo, Paula Poundstone, Randy Bachman, Peter Yarrow, Kathy Mattea and Hot Tuna. Yet to come are Blue Oyster Cult, Crystal Gale, Ricky Skaggs, Lewis Black, Chicago (which already is sold out) and Amy Grant. It’s a performance card that could be the envy of any venue, never mind one that serves a city of 13,000.

The theater’s annual budget will be more than $1 million this year, executive director Hunt Brawley said Thursday.

“We’re ahead of the projections we made when we started operations,” he said. “We’ve gone through a couple of tight spots – you operate on a six-month season basis and you’re paying for shows in advance –but this season, even without Chicago, will be the best we’ve had.”

Marketing director Drew Tanner said that in addition to ticketed shows for name acts, the theater is getting a lot of community use.

“We’re at 100 events a year,” he said.

The theater hit the market at a favorable time, Brawley said.

“There’s been a big resurgence for live performance, a new appetite, and this is a great live performance theater,” he said.

In the last two years the theater has been busier than any period in its century-long history, he said.

That history began with vaudeville, a fortunate bit of timing. A few years later theaters were being built to show films, a new trend in entertainment at the time, and the stages were much smaller. The Marietta theater has enough stage room to accommodate a symphony orchestra, and the acoustics reflect a space that was engineered for sound.

It’s also an intimate experience for the audience. Even though the theater holds 940 people, the farthest seats in the balcony are less than 100 feet from the stage.

Brawley said the performance seasons are set up to appeal to a wide array of audiences, with country music being a regular best-seller, but he thinks the theater has yet to get maximum reach into the college-age and under-30 fans.

“The artists they like tend to play arenas or clubs,” Tanner said. The Peoples Bank Theatre is in between those types of venues, and it’s a formal rather than casual setting.

Looking ahead, Brawley said the board and management of the theater hope to build an endowment in the order of $2 million by the time the theater reaches its fifth year, which is when it will become fully operated as a nonprofit. It is still partially a for-profit so that the original investors, of which Peoples Bank is a prominent member, can take full benefit of tax credits attached to the project.

An endowment, he said, “would really help even out some of the seasonal ups and downs.”

The two said the past three years have been full of memorable moments. For Brawley, one of those was the performance by Dennis DeYoung, a founding member of the rock band Styx.

“It was an amazing show,” he said. “What a sight, when he had 800 people singing along with ‘Come Sail Away.'”

The theater has thrived in part because of its downtown setting and the work of Marietta Main Street, Tanner said. People come to the theater in part because the downtown area offers after-performance dining options and other attractions. A partnership with Marietta College has brought high caliber musicians and performers through the Esbenshade Series, and once a year the public radio live music show Mountain Stage is held in the theater, bringing a mix of well-known and new performers to Marietta audiences.

“Each year it gets easier,” Brawley said. “We’ve established a presence, we get repeat bookings with the talent agencies, the performers like it here and tell each other about it.”

The reward is in the audience, he said.

“Seeing great performances when the sound and lighting are perfect, people having a great time, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Peoples Bank Theatre, third year performance season

•Blue Oyster Cult, 8 p.m. Jan. 19.

•Million Dollar Arm (movie screening) 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24.

•1919 Speakeasy Party (100th anniversary party) 8 p.m. Feb. 2.

•Todd Burge, William Matheny, Adam Remnant (only 50 tickets available) 8 p.m. Feb. 8.

•Crystal Gale, 8 p.m. Feb. 9.

•Ondekoza (Japanese taiko drummers) 7 p.m. Feb. 16.

•Momix, Opus Cactus (dance) 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17.

•Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra (live music with silent comedy films) 7 p.m. March 1.

•Colony Short Film Festival 10 a.m. March 2.

•River Cities Symphony Winter Concert (Mozart and Salieri), 3 p.m. March 3.

•Golden Dragons Acrobats, 7 p.m. March 9.

•Havana Cuba All-Stars (contemporary Cuban music and dance) 7:30 p.m. March 10.

•Runa (Irish folk and fusion) 8 p.m. March 16.

•Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, 8 p.m. March 23.

•Lewis Black (comedy) 8 p.m. April 12.

•Dancing with the Docs (fundraiser) 7:30 p.m. April 13.

•Colony Movie Club, 2 p.m. April 20.

•Chicago (sold out), 8 p.m. May 3.

•Connie Smith, 8 p.m. May 11.

•River Cities Symphony Pops Concert, 7:30 p.m. May 18.

•Amy Grant, 8 p.m. June 21.

Source: Peoples Bank Theatre.