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Whistler Performance Series attendance less than expected

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Arts council wants to hear from public Saturday

Attendance at this year’s Whistler Performance Series has been disappointing.

Show sponsors, the Whistler Community Arts Council, are looking at why ticket sales are down.

"It is a puzzle why attendance has been lower this year, but we are promoting to concierges, because there are a lot of visitors who come through town that could be interested in the shows, in addition to the local community," says Joan Richoz, treasurer of the WCAC and one of the organization’s founders.

In previous years performances were held at Our Lady of the Mountains Church and often sold out. But this year, with the long-awaited stage of Millennium Place finally available, attendance has been down.

Richoz has seen many shows come and go since helping to found the arts council 20 years ago.

"We want to get the buzz going around these events, so it’s just a question of (the time factor) and how we do that," she said.

"Shannan Calcutt had good numbers at her show Burnt Tongue, which was competing with the Big Air and Whistler-Blackcomb Foundation events that same night."

The arts council wants to rekindle a community atmosphere at Millennium Place Theatre.

"We aim for that similar community atmosphere we had in previous years, one that is social," said Richoz.

"So we’ve been starting with a cocktail hour before the shows."

This year the arts council’s series has grown in size, both in the number of shows and in the size of the theatre.

Current shows run at the 200-seat Millennium Place Theatre, a much larger venue than the hall at Our Lady of the Mountains Church.

Growing pains remain part of the process.

"It’s a new place (for shows), so it’s really an experimental curve," said Rob Hallam, general manager at Millennium Place.

He said they had no preconceptions about who the audience draw would be.

The arts council’s mandate with the Performance Series shows is to present "high quality entertainment at affordable prices." In all cases, show tickets are subsidized through the WCAC.

Currently theatre-goers can buy a membership which gives them a discount on tickets. Individual memberships are $10, while family memberships are $15.

"Tickets are not cheap," said Donna Savage, staff member with the council. "Everyone knows by now that WCAC has a reputation of bringing in a good show. Sometimes if the price is too low, audiences don’t see a value in it."

A Fine and Pleasant Mystery sold 175 tickets.

"Ticket sales for Lyle Victor Albert’s show were low, although we anticipated that due to the ‘fringe element’ nature of the show," said Richoz.

"We plan to scale back and do fewer shows for the 2002-2003 season," says Savage.

Simply getting used to the concept that there is a theatre in town is part of the process.

"Before an audience used to say, ‘do we go to the movies or the bars.’ Now it’s getting used to ‘do we go to the theatre?’" says Hallam.

When selecting shows each season, members of the council attend Pacific Contact, a conference in Vancouver where arts organizations attend auditions by performers.

"Shows like A Fine and Pleasant Mystery sold over 150 tickets at the beginning of the season, so there is the interest there," said Savage.

A full time director, who will be hired soon, means the WCAC will be even more accessible.

"We hope to have an executive director in place for the end of April, and they will be full time," she said.

They will also handle areas like promotion and awareness of events.

The new role of Whistler’s arts council, which will be discussed at an open forum this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Delta Whistler Resort, is large in scope.

Designated as the umbrella organization for the arts in Whistler, the WCAC will run several programs with minimal staff. Large annual festivals, including the annual Bizarre Bazaar, and the Children’s Festival, rely on the help of volunteers.

"The challenge is finding the audience for these shows and letting them know about them," said Savage.

"We’ll work on letting people know that when they come to Whistler to ski, you can also see shows in the performing arts here."

Upcoming shows include bluesy jazz harmonica from Carlos del Junco on March 8 and the Lisa Linda Trio, of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café, on March 22.

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