The early success of the Durham Performing Arts Center’s 2,800-seat theater has created pressure at the older performing arts venue down the interstate in Raleigh.
Recently, the Progress Energy Center, a four-venue facility topped by the 2,300-seat Memorial Auditorium, instituted changes that would open the main stage to more big-ticket touring acts.
Among the key changes was for the Carolina Ballet to relocate most of its non-Nutcracker performances from Memorial Auditorium to Fletcher Opera Theater. This relocation in turn creates space and scheduling problems for several of the smaller resident companies that use the facility.
Language in the scheduling policy for the Raleigh Convention Center, which oversees Progress Energy Center, indicates that priority is given to touring productions that would produce five or more performances, while local productions and concerts are on a “first come, first served” basis.
Concern over these changes prompted a meeting on Feb. 27 between Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and representatives of several Raleigh arts organizations. According to Nancy Lambert of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, the conference was requested by several groups, including the Guild, Theatre in the Park, Raleigh Little Theatre and Capital Opera, who were all represented.
The discussion concerned the implications of moving the Carolina Ballet from Memorial Auditorium into the much smaller, 600-seat Fletcher venue. Raleigh City Council recently approved a multiyear lease agreement term sheet for the Carolina Ballet to split its productions between Memorial Auditorium, where it has performed exclusively for the past year, and Fletcher.
According to Lambert, the groups were concerned with “financial, scheduling and equity” issues pertaining to the city’s prioritizing of event space. Several groups have complained about difficulties booking space at the Progress Energy Center, contending the city favors larger events over smaller local productions by waiving fees, altering the terms of arts grants and allocating choice venues.
One participant, Ellen Landau, managing director of Raleigh Little Theatre, called the meeting “a good exchange of information” between the groups and the mayor’s office. Raleigh Little Theatre presents Cinderella at Progress Energy Center once a year, and Landau says that while RLT has not had any issues regarding booking space, she wanted to stay “in the loop” regarding the space issues.
“[City officials] have assured me that the ballet is not going to affect Raleigh Little Theatre’s productions in Fletcher, and I’m not anticipating a problem,” Landau says.
She adds that Meeker agreed that the Ballet had to set its season early enough to allow other organizations to set their seasons. “That was a point that everyone agreed on,” she says.
Lambert says that the groups plan to review Progress Energy Center’s policies for scheduling and rental fees, and pass on their findings to the city manager’s office for advice, which will then pass the findings and advice to the Civic Center Commission for review.
“I think it’s a situation that is going to stand, and other groups will just have to take the space that they can after the Ballet and other groups are given first priority for Fletcher and other theaters,” Lambert says.
Carolina Ballet Executive Director Lisa Jones says that the Ballet had historically split its performances between Memorial and Fletcher, and that the move would only encompass about half of its upcoming productions.
A number of public documents involving the city’s negotiations with the Carolina Ballet have been posted on the Classical Voice of North Carolina Web site (www.cvnc.org/news/2009/022009.html#Krupa), along with details of specific booking difficulties.
One contentious item has to do with a proposal from Roger Krupa, director of the Raleigh Convention Center, for a $250,000 per year cash payment from the city to Carolina Ballet to provide “financial stability” for the organization. This payment, which is to run for the length of the new 10-year contract, differs from similar payments in the past to the Ballet in that it comes directly from the city of Raleigh.
Jones says the Ballet received $250,000$150,000 from the Raleigh Arts Commission and $100,000 from the cityfor the past four years. “I am proud to share that [Fletcher] stage with other arts organizations, and I am very proud of the high quality that we have in all of our arts groups,” she said.
Krupa acknowledges that the city places precedence on high-profile, multinight performances over smaller-scale, local groups. One reason is Raleigh’s competitor, the Durham Performing Arts Center, which opened in November.
“The Durham Performing Arts Center is taking shows that we would have presented,” Krupa says. “That money is not money that is going to be going into Raleigh.”
Indeed, DPAC has proven a force to be reckoned with, boasting 11 sold-out events to date in its 2009-10 season. According to General Manager Bob Klaus, shows at DPAC can be profitable with sales of anywhere from 1,500 to 2,700 seats. “Our goal at DPAC is something for everyone, and the response from area audiences is so positive about this new home for world-class entertainment in the Triangle,” Klaus said via e-mail.
Krupa says that he respects local groups’ wishes”If you can get an audience, we’re for it!”
The question remains whether Raleigh can strike a balance between providing space for larger-scale, higher-revenue shows and smaller, more intimate local productions.
“It’s a matter of priority, I think,” Lambert says. “The bottom line is the bottom line. We just want to make certain that the city officials do not overlook the community groups. Fletcher Opera Theater was built for community groups, and we’d like to maintain a presence there.”