ERCT finds that even ‘Phantom’ is a tough sell here

Josh Smith as the Phantom and Kristin Rokke as Christine, in one of the many visual and musical delights of "The Phantom of the Opera" by Elk River Community Theatre and Elk River High School. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

“The Phantom of the Opera” proved a rousing artistic success the last two weekends in Elk River, but financially it was an expensive risk that didn’t pan out.

The joint production by Elk River Community Theatre and Elk River High School was the biggest-budget play ever presented here (including a steep price for rights), and the expense and efforts put forth were justified by quality acting, music, sets, choreography, special effects and costumes.  Audiences seemed impressed but they were small.

“Lousy attendance,” was veteran director Eileen Bowersox’s short answer when asked to reflect on “Phantom’s” run. “I’m done. That’s it. That’s too much work, too many hundreds of hours, to draw less than 2,000 … I’m putting out resumes to go someplace they care.”

Total attendance was 1,644 for seven shows, about half what they felt they needed.

“We advertised the snot out of it, too,” Bowersox said. She noted that Minnetonka sold 7,000 tickets for “Phantom” this spring “and I can look anyone in the eye and say my show was better” especially with Dan Wold’s excellent sets.

Added Denny Chuba, board member and past president, “We thought that because of the rarity of this production  and the way we reached out with advertising a lot farther, there would be more of a turnout. Maybe we’ll just have 1,500 to 2,500 no matter what we do.”

Along with tickets and ads, funding is also provided by Central Minnesota Arts Board through funds allocated by the Legacy Amendment of 2008. The Rotary also helps out.