More flights provide boost to festivals at Sand Harbor

Folksy Southwest Airlines is providing an unexpected boost to summertime performances of Shakespeare at Lake Tahoe.

As the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival looks to widen its reach throughout the West, a growing portion of its audiences come from Southern California.

And that, says festival Executive Director Catherine Atack, partially reflects the addition of two daily Southwest flights between Reno and San Diego.

Southern California residents account for about 8 percent of the audiences at the festival that runs from July 12 through Aug. 27.

The Bay Area continues to be the largest out-of-town market for the festival at 12 percent, while Sacramento theater-goers account for 11 percent.

Local audiences make up 60 percent of the ticket purchasers.

The festival posted about a 3 percent increase in attendance during last year event, and organizers expect to see similar growth figures this year.

About 80 percent of the nonprofit festival's $1.4 million annual budget is covered by ticket sales, and early sales have been running about 40 percent ahead of last year's numbers.

On the cost side, the festival's expenditures are approximately evenly divided between administration, artists, marketing and maintenance of its venue at Sand Harbor.

Because nearly all of the expenses are fixed costs, Atack says the festival's management team pays a lot of attention to increasing the festival's audiences essentially, boosting revenues without adding much to costs.

One way to do that is through addition of theater performances other than Shakespeare.

This year's playbill features the Bard's "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Taming of the Shrew" but also features Monday-night performances of "Greater Tuna," a contemporary comedy about life in the rural town of Tuna, Texas.

And once the Shakespeare performances come to an end August 19, the festival presents six nights of performances in its "Midsummer Nights" series.

Performers in that series range from jazz musician Bobby Caldwell and the Reno Jazz Orchestra to dancers in the Sierra Nevada Ballet and stars from Cirque de Soleil.

"We're looking to maximize use of our venue at Sand Harbor," Atack says.

The festival's marketing plans, meanwhile, steadily move away from traditional print advertising and place more reliance on Internet sales efforts.

And that, Atack says, is showing up in the way that tickets are sold. As recently as 2003, she says, 90 percent of tickets were sold over the phone. Currently, the Internet accounts for nearly 75 percent of sales.


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