Up close & personal: State Theatre’s Shelley Brown promises fans more ‘Wow’ for venue’s 2017-18 season
“The Wow Factor” is in effect for the 2017-18 season of the State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton.
The 2016-17 season at the historic State Theatre was billed as “90 years of Wow.”
State Theatre President and CEO Shelley Brown says when she was planning the 2017-18 season she made sure that the 91st year would continue to “Wow.”
“It really inspired me that it was really important to me that we’re ready for 90 more,” says Brown. “That’s why the tag line, “Nobody does it better.’
“That’s the sentiment that I got all year, and just that it was a great, great venue and meant a great deal. That’s what was inspiring me. That we’re here. We’re here to stay.”
Look for an actual line, not only a tag line to take shape Aug. 2 along Easton’s Northampton Street in front of the State Theatre. That’s the date when tickets to shows in the State Theater 2017-18 season go on sale to members.
“We’re blessed with an audience who see the season program and wait in line Aug. 2, and sleep overnight. They are planning their calendar around us. And there’s a good 300 who do that. They have a list as long as their arm. They’re planning their year around it,” marvels Brown.
“They want to walk up to the window and, say for the John Cleese show, or for the musical, ‘I want to be in row E, F or G.’ Others want fifth row center. There are people who want that front row ... or here or there ... “
Tickets to the public go on sale Aug. 16.
“We have a very personal relationship with our patrons,” Brown continues. “They’ve always called me. They’ve always emailed me. I’m always thinking about what people have told me. Because people know me from the theater, I get ideas from everywhere.”
For 2017-18, Brown is heading into her 26th season. She’s led the State Theatre since 1992. Her silver anniversary coincided with the theater’s 90th anniversary.
The State Theatre is a big operation, a year-round, full-time venue. The theater’s annual budget is $3 million. There are 12 full-time employees, about six part-time stage hands (varying per show).
There were 66 performances, including the popular Freddys high school musicals contest telecast, during the 2016-17 season. There are 66 performances for the 2017-18 season, with more to be announced.
The State Theatre seats 1,500. Attendance for the 2016-17 season was 70,000, drawing mostly from the greater Lehigh Valley and Warren and Hunterdon counties, N.J.
Brown has a macro and micro view of the State Theatre, its market and its patrons because, in addition to running the State Theater physical plant, she books the shows presented in it.
“Some people who run venues don’t do any of the booking,” Brown notes, adding that she collaborates on choosing shows with Jamie Balliet, State Theatre Senior Vice President, Marketing; and Matt Markus, State Theatre Marketing Assistant. They’ve been working together for years. Mark Rabinsky, State Theatre Vice President for Production, has become more involved in suggesting shows, Brown adds.
Among the hot tickets on sale at the State Theatre for the 2017-18 season: The Oak Ridge Boys, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8; Boz Scaggs, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15; John Cleese: Live On Stage, with a screening of “Monty Python And The Holy Grail,” 7 p.m. Sept. 19; “The Purple Xperience: Tribute To Prince,” 8 p.m. Oct. 7; Linda Eder, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14; “Haunted Illusions: The Magic of David Caserta,” 7 p.m. Oct. 21; Alton Brown Live: “Eat Your Science,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8; Night Ranger, Loverboy, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 25, and Jackie Evancho, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29.
The Bach Choir Of Bethlehem celebrates its 120th anniversary with a concert, 7:30 p.m. March 17, 2018, at the State Theatre.
Performances are also presented in the State Theatre’s Acopian Ballroom, which has an adjacent kitchen for catering. Art exhibitions are presented in the State Theatre’s Easton Hospital Gallery. The venue is available for rent by outside show producers and for events and parties.
“Right now, if I had the opportunity to book something for 2019 and I thought it was phenomenal, I would. But generally, I’m booking about a year and about a year and half in advance,” Brown says.
“I’m always looking for Broadway because we really are the best-suited venue in the area for Broadway. We have the best facility for it, structurally. With the Freddy Awards, it’s a wonderful connection. That’s always where I start and try to piece that in first. It’s just a jigsaw puzzle.”
The 91st season includes six national tours of Broadway shows: “The Wizard of Oz,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 2018; “Cinderella,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 17, 2018; “A Chorus Line,” 7:30 p.m. March 2, 2018; “Cabaret,” 7 p.m. March 11, 2018; “Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour,” 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12, 2018, and “Dirty Dancing,” 7:30 p.m. June 21, 22, 2018. Brown says it’s a “back and forth conversation” with booking agents and artists’ management.
There are “holding dates,” a “window” when Brown is asked to set aside possible dates for a musical, concert or other event. It’s a matter of “hold these dates” and “moving dates.
“You must layer things in,” Brown explains.
The 91st season includes six national tours of Broadway shows: “The Wizard of Oz,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 2018; “Cinderella,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 17, 2018; “A Chorus Line,” 7:30 p.m. March 2, 2018; “Cabaret,” 7 p.m. March 11, 2018; “Rent: 20th Anniversary Tour,” 7:30 p.m. April 11, 12, 2018, and “Dirty Dancing,” 7:30 p.m. June 21, 22, 2018.
No performance is a sure bet in terms of attendance. “You just really never know until the audience comes in. We’re not a huge walk-in market,” says Brown.
“The rules are kind of out the window nowadays. There never have been really sure things in this business. But now it’s just weird in this market, especially with so many venues in this market.
“I stopped being too experimental because it’s catastrophic in this market. There’s so much going on in this area. I have to feel really good about it [a particular show or performance].”
Brown divides the types of shows at the State Theatre into “old favorites” and new shows she’s wanted to book for years.
The old favorites include “the kinds of shows that if we’ve had them before they were just so memorable.”
For the 2017-18 season, a sampling includes “Original Stars Of American Bandstand,” 8 p.m. Oct. 28; “Evil Dead The Musical,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31 (Halloween night); Straight No Chaser: “The Speakeasy Tour,” 4, 8 p.m. Nov. 4; “Martial Arts & Acrobats Of Tiajin” from the People’s Republic of China, 7 p.m. Nov. 10; “Lonesome Traveler: The Concert - The Roots of American Folk Music” featuring Peter Yarrow, 8 p.m. Feb. 3, 2018, and “Riverdance 20th Anniversary World Tour,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6, 7, 2018.
“I feel good about all these shows,” says Brown. “Every year, I come up with a season, and there’s worries. This year, I feel good about all of them. That doesn’t mean that they’ll translate to successes.
“I felt so good about the 90th season. I felt everyone of them served the market that likes to come here.”
In her quarter-century at the State Theatre, Brown has seen changes not only in the Lehigh Valley market, but in the marketing of that market. For instance, there was no Internet to speak of to market shows. Now, with social media, the State Theatre potential audience reach is well beyond Fogelsville in the western reaches of Lehigh County and the Delaware River along the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border.
“Not to mention that the market is completely saturated,” Brown emphasizes.
ArtsQuest’s SteelStacks Musikfest Cafe and Levitt Pavilion and the Sands Bethlehem Event Center have had major impacts for nonprofits such as the State Theatre. There’s also Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown; Penn’s Peak, Jim Thorpe; Sherman Theatre, East Stroudsburg; The Great Allentown Fair, and Musikfest, among other venues and festivals.
“So we’re all tripping over each other. I’m sure every venue, we all have our fingers crossed, that people are going to support us.
“Every business is changing. Did you ever think that Sears would close?
The State Theatre perseveres, for 90 years, and now for its 91st year.
“The building has never been in as great a shape: load-in from the roof, elevators, new curtain, LED lighting, new bathrooms, plaster, new roof. The staff and board have been great stewards of this building.
“And Easton’s doing really good,” Brown continues. “Easton’s having an organic renaissance. The restaurant scene is booming. A lot of people are living downtown. So, it feels good to be on Northampton Street these days.”
Tickets: State Theatre Box Office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org, 1-800-999-STATE, 610-252-3132