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July 2002
Less Golf and More Theatre: a New Trend in Corporate Entertaining?
By Chris Jensen

Business people often are looking for a new way to entertain suppliers or prospective customers, a way to recognize and reward employees, a way to stretch their advertising dollars, or a way to improve the cultural life of the community. More and more, these business needs are being met by an evening of live professional theatre.

             “I love having my associates, suppliers and potential customers together for a nice dinner uptown and then going to the theatre together,” says Lisa Eversole, executive vice president, Procurement and Corporate Services, Bank of America. “Historically, business has been done at restaurants and on golf courses, because that’s what business is based on — people and relationships.

            “Well, I don’t play golf, and a lot of people in the business world don’t play golf anymore—they just don’t have time during the day. But they can schedule dinner and theatre in the evening.” And usually, Eversole takes her guests to Charlotte Repertory Theatre.

            “Our employees really look forward to sponsorship nights,” says Marty Bates, associate principal for McKinsey & Company, which has sponsored a number of corporate nights at the Rep. “It’s a great social event for the office, and it’s great entertainment. And for people who have just joined our company and are new to Charlotte, it’s a great way to introduce them to other people and to the cultural life of the city.”

 

Why Charlotte Repertory Theatre?

            Unlike the Broadway Lights series, which is a presenting company, the Rep is a producing company. Whereas Broadway Lights brings to town tours of professional productions that have originated elsewhere, Charlotte Rep creates professional productions of plays and musicals from the ground up, combining regional and national talent.  

            Almost all of the Rep’s productions are presented in Booth Playhouse, a much more intimate setting than the touring shows. The entrance to this 434-seat theatre is on the second floor of Founders Hall in the Bank of America Corporate Center. Often compared to some of the smaller theatres on Broadway, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

            Eversole agrees: “The Booth Playhouse is a gorgeous place to spend the evening, and Charlotte Repertory Theatre is a wonderful professional theatre. We consistently get a great response—people enjoy it very much.”

            As the Central Carolinas’ only fully professional LORT theatre (LORT signifies membership in the League of Resident Theatres), Charlotte Repertory Theatre is recognized as one of the city’s principal cultural resources, a leader in the regional theatre movement and nationally recognized for its productions and artists. Since 1992, the Rep has been the resident theatre company of the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

 

An exciting time for the Rep

            “More than any other arts organization in Charlotte, the Rep is on the verge of a national level of performance and recognition,” says Bates, who is also a member of the theatre’s board of trustees.

            The Rep recently celebrated its 25th anniversary season in the midst of a reinvention of sorts. The multi-faceted transition has encompassed the Rep’s artistic and organizational leadership, artistic programming, marketing strategies, development efforts and facility planning. 

            At the center of this transition is the appointment by the Rep’s Board of Trustees of Michael Bush as producing artistic director. Bush, a Charlotte native, moved back to Charlotte and joined the Rep in June after spending 23 years with the Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC).

            For the past 11 years, Bush served as MTC’s associate artistic director where he oversaw all ongoing artistic activity for the company’s eight-play season devoted to new work. In his time with MTC, Bush helped artistically guide more than 120 productions of new plays and musicals, working with the premiere writers, directors and actors in the theater today.

            Bush’s expertise extends to management and fiscal guidance. During his time there, MTC has grown from a small off-Broadway theatre company to become one of the country’s largest theatres with an annual budget of more than $10 million and a subscription base of 20,000. A talented fund-raiser, his legendary Manhattan Theater Club gala evenings raised more than $1 million annually.

            In April Bush announced his plans for the 2002-2003 season, and he is wasting no time in getting his extensive network of national theatre contacts involved in his first season at the Rep.

 

Big move planned for fall

            Of course, there are many kinds of corporate support.

            Even a lot of long-time Rep supporters don’t realize that for years, the Rep has relied on in-kind donations from friends such as Bank of America, Crescent Resources and Duvall Investments, to provide space for administrative offices; storage; a shop for building sets, costumes and props; rehearsal space; and housing for visiting actors and artists.

            Earlier this year, after losing its in-kind rehearsal and storage space for the fourth time in as many years, the Rep began exploring options for a permanent facility. The North Davidson space fits nearly all of the Rep’s criteria, and for a reasonable rent payment—offering ample warehouse and office space, and providing for future expansion. The space offers other advantages, as well. It will:

• bring various functions under one roof and serve as a “mission control” for the Rep’s operations

• provide ample storage space for theatrical materials so that they can be retained and re-used, and

• offer the potential for rental income.

 

The Cost/Benefit Review

            Although the Charlotte Rep tailors corporate sponsorship packages for individual businesses, there are several packages that are often requested.

            For example, “Presenting Corporate Sponsorships” are available for anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. Benefits can include up to 434 tickets (the entire theatre), a variety of marketing opportunities, exclusive performances, program ads, program inserts, and other benefits tailored to the sponsor’s interests.

            Another popular package is “Corporate Night at the Theatre” (not offered on Friday or Saturday evenings).  For $5,000, a business receives 50 tickets and recognition in the program, on signs and as part of a curtain speech. Other benefits include use of the lobby for a cocktail reception before the show and backstage tours immediately following the performance. Similarly, for $2,500, a business receives 24 tickets, and for $1,500, 16 tickets—along with other benefits.

            “We're very fortunate that Charlotte-area corporations appreciate and understand the value of the arts in this community, and in particular, professional theater of the Rep’s caliber,” says Anne Lambert, director of development for Charlotte Repertory Theatre.

            “Sponsors such as Bank of America, Goodrich, McKinsey & Company, Wachovia, and BellSouth help the Rep to present plays of exceptional quality. Our quality would diminish without their support.”

            Lambert is the person to contact at the Rep to schedule a corporate event or simply to get more information about sponsorship options. She believes the Rep provides companies with an outstanding return on their philanthropic and marketing dollars.

            Lambert points out that for an investment of anywhere from $1,500 to $25,000, corporate sponsors can share an entertaining and culturally enriching experience with their clients, suppliers and employees—in addition to reaping the many marketing and public relations benefits of sponsorship.

            “These companies also can say: We are partners in producing high-caliber, live professional theatre for the entire region,” Lambert says.

            McKinsey & Company, corporate sponsor for a number of Rep events, agrees that the theatre offers a great return and emphasizes the importance of corporate involvement.

            “What amazes me about the Rep is how much they do—and how well they do it—with such limited financial resources,” Bates says. With ticket sales accounting for about one-third of the theatre’s earned revenue, the Rep relies heavily on sponsorship by corporations and individuals.

            “Without corporate sponsorship, there would be no live professional theatre produced here,” he says. “Every business owner or business leader should think hard about making a personal commitment to the arts.”

            To Eversole, it’s almost a no-brainer. “All of us at Bank of America want to live in a strong community, and the arts are very important to having a great community and a great uptown,” she says. “I personally enjoy being involved in corporate sponsorship because of the opportunity to bring clients, vendors and associates to these events—sometimes to introduce them to Charlotte Rep for the first time.”

 

The Rep’s newly redesigned web site, www.charlotterep.org, provides a complete overview of the star-studded season for which tickets are now available. For more information or to request a season brochure, go online or call 704-372-1000.

Chris Jensen is a Gastonia-based freelance writer and public relations counselor.
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