The historic Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kan. (Photo by Doug Hahn)
The nonprofit Orpheum Performing Arts Centre in Wichita, Kan., decided to foray into private management for the first time this month, beginning a multiyear contract with SMG Sept. 1. The theater will pay SMG an undisclosed flat rate each year, also reimbursing SMG-managed Intrust Bank Arena for any employees who provide support to the theater. Switching to private management will allow the nonprofit to focus on its main goal of fundraising to restore the 91-year-old facility.
“Honestly, SMG has approached us a couple of times over the years, but the time wasn’t right until now,” said Jennifer Wright, president at Orpheum Theatre.
After being closed for more than 20 years, the theater reopened in 2000. During the past 13 years, more than $4 million in renovations have been completed at the theater, though the entire auditorium still needs to be restored at a cost of additional millions.
Along with the restoration came a growth in programming, operations and attendance. The nonprofit organization made the decision to hire private management in order to better focus on fundraising opportunities.
“We still have a way to go in terms of raising money and it’s difficult to focus on the big picture fundraising and long-term strategy of the theater while handling the operations,” said Wright. “At this point it made sense for us to bring SMG on board to have that sense of stability and peace of mind knowing that we have that operational expertise.”
In addition to SMG’s persistence, the company’s track record helped clinch the deal for Orpheum Theatre. Wright said that the theater staff was impressed by SMG’s success with neighboring building Intrust Bank Arena, which recently ranked sixth highest-grossing facility in the world for its capacity in Venues Today’s Mid-Year Top Stops.
“We’re always looking to expand our business, whether it be arenas, convention centers or theaters,” said GM for SMG Wichita A.J. Boleski. “This is really a crown jewel in the middle of Wichita. It has an aura about it and a unique theatrical atmosphere.”
The marquee at the Orpheum Theatre. (Photo by Ken Davis)
SMG is in the process of hiring a theater director. The fall schedule is strong, so the focus now is mainly programming for 2014. Boleski said SMG plans to continue the theater’s practice of bringing in diverse and vibrant events.
Upcoming events at the theater include offerings in film, music, comedy and dance. “Saving Private Ryan” will be shown Sept. 19, with Wichita Pride presenting “La Cage aux Folles” Sept. 26. School of Rock Wichita will present a doubleheader featuring the music of Michael Jackson vs. Prince, and arena rock featuring music of the 70s and 80s, Sept. 21, and The Bob & Tom Comedy Show comes to town Sept. 27. John Edward Psychic Medium comes to The Orpheum Theatre Oct. 8, and Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker is already booked for Dec. 1.
The theater has established relationships with community organizations, including School of Rock Wichita and Tallgrass Film Festival, which SMG will continue to foster and maintain.
“We’ll also try to bring in as many national tours as we can and reintroduce promoters to the theater,” said Boleski. “We have a network of nearly 60 theaters across the country, so we’ll use that network to bring in great shows.”
“The plan is for SMG to focus on operations, booking and marketing, while Jennifer and her team will focus on restoring the theater,” he added. “Combined, our expertise in booking, and their work to restore the theater will make a great partnership.”
According to Wright, SMG has had a presence at the venue’s events since the management agreement went into effect.
“It’s great peace of mind knowing that they’re going to take excellent care of the theater’s operations, while we can focus on fundraising efforts,” she added.
Interviewed for this story: A.J. Boleski, (316) 440-9015; Jennifer Wright, (316) 263-0884