ELKHART, Indiana — Emma Patterson stopped by The Lerner box office Wednesday, Feb. 12, and picked up two tickets for "Spank!" the parody production of the mega best seller, "50 Shades of Gray."
Patterson, who moved to Elkhart four years ago and is from California, said she's excited about seeing the show and a chance to finally get an up-close look at the interior of the renovated theater.
She said she's surprised at some of the entertainment The Lerner has attracted.
"It's a very good opportunity," Patterson told The Elkhart Truth (http://bit.ly/1hfCyKx ), noting she often has driven to Chicago or Detroit for an entertaining night out.
Patterson represents the kind of customer officials with The Lerner are hoping to continue to attract as it enters the third full year of operations.
"That's exactly what we're looking for," said David Smith, general manager with the Lerner.
After two years of getting into the grind of lining up programs for the city-operated theater, Smith and The Lerner are gearing up for what appears to be an even busier year in 2014.
"Spank!" is among a growing variety of shows that will be featured in 2014. Along with an increase in big-name entertainers, Lerner has also scheduled, among other things, a series of silent movies and a major children's production.
In 2013, an estimated 105,000 people visited the theater, and Smith believes they can top that.
Two statistics concerning plans for 2014 shed light on Smith's optimism.
In 2013, the Lerner had 88 events in the theater. But this year, The Lerner already is closing in on that number and has set a goal of 100 events for 2014.
The other fact involves the number of promoters. During a three-month period in early 2013, the theater worked with one commercial promoter who brought in two shows. This year, for that same time period, The Lerner is working with four promoters who will bring in ten performers.
Much of the expanded work with promoters has come from developing good relationships and providing excellent experiences for the performers, Smith said.
In both cases, he said he thinks The Lerner is benefiting from word-of-mouth praise.
Smith points to the use of an extensive spread sheet that tracks everything from ticket sales on certain nights, sales based on genre and even small stuff such as popcorn sales.
Some of those types of details and trends, he said, helps in various ways and especially in determining what and when to book in the future, he said.
Some of the best-selling shows in 2013 included Elkhart Jazz Festival performers Wynton Marsalis and John Pizzarelli; The Moody Blues; and NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!," which did so well that tickets were sold for an overflow room that provided video of the show.
"That was huge for us," Smith said of the news-oriented comedy radio show.
The theater also benefited from a string of strong productions via Premier Arts, the resident theater group. Some of those included "Annie Get Your Gun," ''The Wizard of Oz," ''South Pacific" and "Sleeping Beauty," Smith said.
The tentative list of acts for the first part of 2014 includes Air Supply and the Temptations, which are lined up on back-to-back nights, The Lettermen, Styx, Gavin DeGraw, Scooby Doo Live, and Family Feud Live, which will pull contestants from the audience, Smith said.
Smith said 2013 financial figures for the theater — which includes the Crystal Ballroom and Premier Arts — are very similar to numbers from 2012, but he declined to discuss specifics because final numbers have not been assembled by the city.
Smith predicts the theater will likely host more big name marquee acts in 2014 than the combined number from 2012 and 2013.
"What does that say for the future of the space?" Smith asked rhetorically.
Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com