Friday, August 8, 2014

Curtain closes on Broadway in Jackson

The curtain closed on Broadway shows in Jackson after W. Kessler, Ltd. posted this Facebook message on July 14:

W. Kessler Ltd. will not present a Broadway season in 2014-2015.  After 150 shows and 30 years, we are sad.
 William and Averyl Kessler brought Broadway shows to Jackson for 31 years.  The Jackson City Council imposed a $5 dollar ticket surchage in November to pay for an emergency work order at Thalia Mara Hall submitted by Johnson Controls.  The Northside Sun reported in January: 

 The council, in November, voted to add a $5 hall restoration fee to each ticket sold for performances at the hall. The fee was urged by Mayor Chokwe Lumumba to bring in the needed revenue to restore the aging facility on Pascagoula Street....

 MAYOR CHOKWE Lumumba explained the reasoning behind the surcharge at the November 19 meeting.

“Essentially what we’re doing are renovations at Thalia Mara Hall. Estimations are around $5 million. We have a million dollars from the state Legislature, which has been approved. We are anticipating (raising) $1.5 million in private contributions, from Friends of Thalia Mara Hall, and we need $2.5 million to do the rest of the work. With the $5 surcharge, we will have the money,” he said...

 The measure was approved with a 4-2 vote. It was passed with no analysis from the council, despite requests from Barrett-Simon to have the item placed in a committee for further review. (KF note: See Priester comments on opposing studying the proposed increase below.)  Several questions remained unanswered, such as how the surcharge would be implemented and collected and whether or not the city’s struggling arts groups would be exempt. Additionally, questions were raised by Whitwell as to whether or not the surcharge would be added to free events, like church services and graduations held at the auditorium. Rest of article
 Averly Kessler told the Northside Sun:
THE fee is one of the highest in the nation. She provided a spreadsheet to the Sun, which showed ticket surcharges at comparable theaters throughout the nation. The highest fee listed is in Detroit, Mich., which is $4.50. The Orpheum, Golden Gate Theatre and the Curran Theatre in San Francisco each include a $4 surchage per ticket, according to information provided by Kessler.
“Because the fee is high, we will have difficulty booking Broadway tours (at) the hall,” she wrote in her letter. “National producers of touring acts look closely at local expenses.”

She told the Sun that those expenses include the local costs for advertising, stage hands, box office staff and security, as well as the overal rental fee for the hall itself.

“So far, none of the Broadway production companies we work with will approve a $5 fee.”

Kessler Productions brings in about five Broadway plays each season. The group doesn’t often have sell-out crowds, but does bring in enough revenue to cover the company’s expenses. With the fee, Kessler is not sure if the shows will continue to be profitable.

Mrs. Kessler told JJ that the booking agents and production companies have to approve the costs for each performance.   The booking agents told her the new surcharges would probably  not be approved. Thus the Kesslers would have to cover the surcharge out of the small profit they make from each show.   The higher prices would also slow ticket sales. She said she has tried to keep tickets affordable so Jacksonians could enjoy quality Broadway productions but the increase makes it tougher to do so.  

While Kessler pays full freight for each production, Jackson waived the surcharge for the recent International Ballet Competition.  Mrs. Kessler said the rent is $2,500 per night.  Non-profits (such as the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra) pay a rental fee that is reduced 50%.. The Kesslers  also can't place the shows at other venues. There are certain technical requirements a venue has to meet for these shows from acoustics to dressing rooms to the actual strength of the stage.

Non-profits such as the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra only pay half the rental fee that for-profit companies such as Kessler must pay.  Mrs. Kessler said her company also gave discounts to school groups so kids could be exposed to Broadway.  The surcharge also meant season ticket subscriptions would increase by $20-$25 depending on the number of shows per season.  She said her company may have a spring season if the city council changes it policy.

 Kingfish note: Welcome to Chokwe and Priester economics: If we raise the price, they will come.  Mr. Priester said the people who attended events at Thalia Mara could afford the increase. While Mr. Priester looked at one end, i.e. the customer, he forget to look at the other end, i.e. the producer.  The producer wasn't going to cover the new price. 

Jackson has a hard time obtaining Broadway shows because of the small size of the market.  Most touring companies demand a production run of at least one week.  Jackson is only able to support one to two nights per production.  Some shows sell out, others only sell half of the available tickets.  $5 doesn't seem much until a touring company factors it in into the cost to bring the show to Jackson.  A pair of season tickets will increase $40-$50- and the tickets are not exactly cheap before the surcharge is added.  The Kesslers always include one family-oriented show.  Spending $80 to take the wife and two kids now becomes $100 or more.  Of course, Mr. Priester says they all can afford it and don't have to look at things called budgets. 

The Kesslers, who made bringing Broadway to Jackson a true labor of love, were forced to shut down this season as they would have probably lost money.  We are all the losers for it. Hopfully, we can bring it back. 

See Mr. Priester's comments in this short clip.

;Here is the full discussion by the City Council when it approved the surcharge:


Mack said...

Typical of the so-called Jackson governing bodies.

Anonymous said...

Sad news. Out of curiosity, was Yarber one of the four who voted for this back then?

Anonymous said...

I've been to a few of the shows--they are great.

And I hear so many time that Jackson has nothing to do...well with the lack of local support it's a self-fulfilling edict.

It remains to be seen if the "new" Jackson will continue these failed policies.

Anonymous said...

I've been to many Kessler shows....all very high quality.

Anonymous said...

Did Thalia Mara really need the repairs and renovations? If so, how else should the money have been raised? Bonds? Tax increases or fees that impacts citizens that don't frequent Thalia Mara Hall? Is there roughly $2.5 million in fat that could be cut from the city budget to pay for the renovations?

Kingfish said...

Yes he did and I think he was wrong on this one.

Johnny Weir said...

Broadway plays are NOT what the culture of JACKSON wants.
They want hip hop and gangster rap.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the mayor recently say that making Jackson an arts and entertainment city was a priority?

Anonymous said...

Aw come on, this isn't a big deal. I'm sure we can just put a Tyler Perry stage show in there to fill the void in the City With Soul.

Anonymous said...

Producers dont care about local fees- they care how much money they make. Period. Theres just not demand in the Jackson area for a two week long theatrical run at a large hall. And thats a darn shame!

Anonymous said...

It's like getting dressed up for prom...then getting stood up by your date...
"Build it and they will come" does not apply...Doing your homework does apply.

Anonymous said...

I used to get dragged to plays as a child. I hated going to plays as much as I hated getting dragged to church "revivals". I even got dragged to a couple on the actual Broadway in Manhattan. They were trite and lowbrow to me, back then, and the snippets of the newer ones I've seen seem even WORSE. They've gotten WAY WORSE, from what I can see.

The only play I remember actually enjoying was a production of 'Vampire Lesbians of Sodom', in LA. But mostly I enjoyed it, because going meant that I had dodged getting dragged to something way more horrible - I think the other choices were 'Cats' and 'Wicked'.

All Broadway plays, these days, seem aimed at really dumb girls - dumb girls with no taste. Guys just get dragged to these things to please women. Frankly, maintaining access to a vagina is not worth the torture of sitting and watching one of those excruciating schmalz-fests. Luckily, I am not forced to choose (I made it clear how much I hate certain amusements, long before we became engaged).

But divorce, even a Jackson-style no-holds-barred Holyroller free-for-all, with lawyers and private investigators and forensic accountants, would be preferable to sitting through five Broadway musicals with some dumb girl.

Then again, I donate all kinds of money, to keep amusements like the Ballet in Jackson. I don't mind, as long as I don't have to go and sit through that mess. Supposedly, it's good for the metro, and for the value of my holdings, that these things are available for OTHERS who might find them interesting. The same thing applies to theatre and sports (And I refuse to go to games, too. Putzing-around going to a game takes as long as my cardio hour AND my lifting hour).

And I really pity the guy whose vagina drags him to one of those floor-stomping dance things.

Anyway, does anybody REALLY care about losing these shows? Or did they just go, because they were supposed to want to? So much of Jackson 'culture' is only maintained because we're told we have to have it. Why force into existence, things for which there is no real demand?

Anonymous said...

A) 5:50 You are pathetic. That is all. God help your "vagina"

B) "Theres just not demand in the Jackson area for a two week long theatrical run at a large hall."

You have obviously never been there, so you shouldn't comment on things you know nothing about. The demand IS weak, which is why they bring in touring shows for a two NIGHT long run, usually Mon-Tues or Tues-Wed, the two slowest days in most cities, when they're willing to play here to make hotel money for the well attended weekend runs in larger cities.

Anonymous said...

The Kessler productions were always good. I have not attended a performance at Thalia Mara hall in a few years because of the terrible condition of the facility. The renovations were definitely needed. Too bad the city didn't try to find another way to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

5:50 is a real catch! His imaginary fiancé must be proud...

Anonymous said...

Let's see - 20 nights per year, let's just say 1000 seats sold per night, times $5 surcharge per ticket, that's $100,000 the city of Jackson will no longer be getting from the Kessler productions.

I know - let's raise the surcharge to $10 per ticket to make it up! What could go wrong?

Anonymous said...

Everyone points and laughs when Jackson loses something but in a real sense we as The TriCounties lose out, where are they playing Broadway plays in Madison or Rankin after this is over? the market must not have been that great in our AREA not just Jackson.

Kingfish said...

More like ten nights a year. Keep in mind these are not locao productions so much of the cost is out of their hands, unlike New Stage or the Symphony where the musicians and actors are hired locally.

Anonymous said...

I don't think repair had anything to do with Chokeweed and his $5 penalty . I feel sure that if JPS used Thalia Mara for some event there would be no $5 penalty. In fact, it probably would be free.

Anonymous said...

KF - I thought they had five shows in the fall and five in the spring, for two nights per show. If it was only five per year then we lost $50,000

Anonymous said...

"the market must not have been that great in our AREA not just Jackson."

Absolutely. I moved here from a large city 15 years ago and wondered why it was so dead. Having been spoiled with a World Series championship, several Stanley Cups, an NBA championship, and a few Super Bowl appearances (alas, no title), I was stunned that an entire state had no pro sports team.

I looked up the Metropolitan Statistical Area stats and found the Jackson/central Mississippi area had about the same number of people as Pittsburgh, PA, with numerous Stanley Cups, Super Bowl championships and World Series rings (no basketball, I don't think). An aside - they also are world headquarters for several Fortune 500 companies.

I don't now why this area (state, actually) can't support big time entertainment. Birmingham, Memphis, and New Orleans have all managed to do this.

I just keep saving my money to take my kids elsewhere to expose them to stuff I took for granted growing up.

Anonymous said...


Don't accuse me of not going or knowing. Touring productions need to have set-up and tear-down costs as well as travel expenses for moving sets and costumes and other things. When you book a show for a week or more these costs average out over a longer time frame and their percentage of cost goes down. It costs MORE for the two day show, per show, than a two week run.

Unless someone is retired it is hard to get excited about going downtown on a weekday night to watch a 3 hr show and then have to go to work. Truth is-it's the same anywhere. That being said, in recent years I've gone to New Stage, Symphony, and concerts and opera and musicals at Mississippi College. More convenient times, high quality theater and music (not NYC quality but certainly high enough to be worthwhile), and a lot more wallet friendly for a good seat.

Anonymous said...

" It costs MORE for the two day show, per show, than a two week run. "

They book here to fill gaps in their schedules. Otherwise they would be paying hotels and per diems for the cast and crew with no revenue for those dead days on the schedule. The cost per show may be higher but the alternative is no revenue for some days.

Anonymous said...

We saw Spamalot there a few years ago. Fantastic! This is sad. Guess I'm taking my money to NOLA or Memphis. Lost Southwest and now this. That dudes a fool. Maybe he should move back to San Francisco?

Anonymous said...

The recent Southwest departure, these folks leaving now......pretty well shows where Jackson continues to head.

Grew up here and lived here all my life.....the way things have been going in this State - and in particular, this City - for the last 6 or 7 years, I too have been trying to figure out a way to leave.

Sad situation here in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the ridiculous nepotism of kids and wives on the city council is a problem. Ya think?

Pappy Odaniel said...

This whole thing stinks..."emergency" repairs which I am sure was just an excuse to subvert normal bidding procedures. Also, notice that second highest is Detroit...that's some of that great planning the former mayor brought from that hotbed of urban innovation. But I'm sure Priester and the like have a great plan of bringing in all of these step competitions and the Johnson-McGumphries family reunion to bridge the loss of a 30 year partner.

Anonymous said...

It has been several years since I went to TM but it was in need of repair then. Emergency repairs in Jackson come from the city not updating or performing maintaince and when it falls apart(i.e. city water system) then its an emergency. I agree with the above that although this wasn't a huge lose for Jackson they need every dollar they can raise.

Anonymous said...

The repairs are sorely needed or else no one will be able to use the facility before too long.

Why don't we have MS contractors and building suppliers wave/donate some of their profit margin?

The Junior League can build a Children's Museum and look at what the Museum of Art Auxiliary has accomplished next door.

We got the IBC despite the naysayers laughing at the notion back then.

Mississippians can accomplish a great deal if they set their minds to it, but I'm afraid the Jackson bashers are having far too much influence...still.

I urge the young people to step up. Too many of our " doers" in Jackson are aging and we need the young folks to stop tweeting and start giving back to their community in greater numbers.

Can't never did do nothing!

Don't think fees are going to work? Fine, what's your plan?

Put up or shut the hell up!

Anonymous said...

Elect folks from the Junior League to the city council!
North Jackson needs to secede otherwise Jackson is stuck. You get what you elect. Duh!

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone pointing out the demise of Jackson is having fun doing so. What has been going on for a while not only affects Jackson, but rather the whole metro area as well.

When I was a kid here we had things to do such as rapids, water world and 'the park' on Lakeland.
I feel sorry for these younger kids as there is nothing that fun for them. The zoo is ok for younger kids, but who honestly wants to bring their child into a very bad area to see animals?

This also ripples into event entertainment as well.

One big domino effect in every sector. Yes inter city crime has become a huge factor, but there are other factors in play as well.

To top it all off, we have to travel to other cities and spend money elsewhere because there is nothing to do and the locals COMPLAIN that we leave Jackson and don't spend our money here for entertainment.
They say we don't know Jackson that well if we're bored here.

What a joke.

I look forward to Pepsi pops and that's about it.
Going to church every Sunday is NOT entertainment.

Anonymous said...

citizen: nothing to do in jackson

promoter: here's a musical, concert, blues festival, baseball

citizen: too much money, don't want to go, excuse after excuse

promoter: cant make money here, go somewhere else

citizen: there's nothing to do here

Anonymous said...

5:09: your LIFTING hour? ha-ha you said LIFTING instead of lifting heh-heh funny!

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