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Weak dollar draws Europeans to Shakespeare Festival

John Seelmeyer

Catherine Atack wishes only that she had more money to put into marketing the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival in Europe.

The executive director of the annual festival on the shores of Lake Tahoe says the weakness of the dollar against the Euro and the English pound this year has resulted in increased ticket sales to international buyers.

“It’s a cheap vacation for them,” she says. “We’re marketing to Europe as much as we can afford to.”

Along with its own advertising and public relations efforts, the festival is teaming with the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s representative in London to drum up business.

The festival, which launches its 36th year on July 10, has seen some modest growth in ticket sales so far this year a victory, Atack says, in the face of a soft U.S. economy.

European audiences, while only a tiny portion of the approximately 30,000 people who attend festival shows, possibly could account for much of the growth this year.

Typically, Atack says, local audiences Reno, the Lake Tahoe area account for about 61 percent of the ticket sales. The San Francisco Bay Area accounts for 12 percent, the Sacramento area for 11 percent and Southern California for 8 to 10 percent. The rest of the nation and the rest of the world make up the rest.

The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival this year features “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Richard III” along with an original romantic musical, “Cambio,” that takes stage on Monday nights. Early sales for “A Mid-summer Night’s Dream” have been particularly strong, Atack says.

The festival this year brought its productions in-house, ending an 11-year contract with Foothill Theatre Co. of Nevada City, Calif.

That move required the festival to increase its administrative staff now 12 full-timers, compared with eight before but should pay off with closer ties between the festival’s marketing and artistic staffs, Atack says.

Audience surveys, for instance, found that they wanted more music. The festival this year adds music to the Shakespeare productions and rolls out the musical production of “Cambio.”

“There should be no disconnect between the audience and the artists,” Atack says.

The festival is learning more about the desires of its audience with a new online ticketing system that allows marketing specialists to drill deep for detailed demographic information about ticket-buyers.

Atack says the festival is aggressively marketing online ticket sales through its update Web site, http://www.LakeTahoeShakespeare.com. Unlike many venues, the festival has reduced handling fees for online buyers. Ticket prices range from $22 to $67.