Musical a holiday gift to the arts

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 19, 2008, at 8:33 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — This time of year, little ballerinas may be dreaming of sugar plum fairies, mouse kings and enchanted Christmas presents.

On the eve of the three Bangor performances of “The Nutcracker,” the managing director of the Robinson Ballet Company dreams of something a little different: full seats and dollar bills, enough even in tough economic times to ensure a year’s worth of programs for the dance company.

“For us, and for probably a great majority of ballet companies around the country, ‘The Nutcracker’ is the yearly big moneymaker,” Julie Arnold Lisnet said Thursday. “I don’t mean to sound cold about it — but the bottom line is that ‘The Nutcracker’ allows us to do everything that we do.”

David Whitehill, executive director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra — which is performing the music at this weekend’s shows — sounds a similar theme when he talks about the holiday favorite. Ticket sales for BSO events generally cover just 30 percent of the nonprofit organization’s costs, he said. But “The Nutcracker” is different.

“’The Nutcracker’ has the opportunity to not only cover itself, but also to provide some additional funding,” Whitehill said. “We think of it as an investment. … It is a revenue-generating platform.”

For area arts organizations such as these two, of course, the investments they want are not just financial. “The Nutcracker” has an unusual, almost singular, role to play in generating future arts support here in Maine, they say.

Every year, the show packs theater seats across the country with wide-eyed children and their parents. For some of those kids, it’s their first experience with live theater — and that is an exciting investment to arts lovers such as Whitehill.

The symphony has even distributed nearly 200 free tickets to people who otherwise couldn’t afford to watch the show, including to a number of schoolchildren, he said.

“When you see the little kids walk in dressed in their holiday best, it’s something that only happens once a year. I love it,” Whitehill said. “It just engages a broader population. They might go to just one event a year, but we can make an impact that lasts a lifetime.”

The promise of great returns means that these companies pour a lot of resources into the seasonal show.

A good “Nutcracker” comes with a heavy price tag, with the total cost of the Bangor performances totaling about $40,000, Whitehill said. The good news is that the symphony is expected to generate about $60,000 in ticket sales.

“We’re really on target,” he said.

The Robinson Ballet company also makes a significant investment in “The Nutcracker.”

The ballet’s 52 dancers have traveled around the region this season, performing in., Machias, Caribou and Ellsworth and in Berlin, N.H. Travel costs money, and so do the scenery and costumes.

“It’s a constant keep-up, maintain, get ahead,” Lisnet said. “It’s not cheap. But if we didn’t do ‘The Nutcracker,’ it would be very difficult to do the other things we do.”

So far, despite the bad economy, Lisnet said the tour has been a good investment.

“They’ve been very well-attended,” she said of the shows. “I think we were all delightfully surprised.”

Part of that success may be the production’s ability to provide an escape from all the global gloom and doom.

“‘It can really transport us into this fantastic world of fantasy,” Whitehill said.

“The Nutcracker” will be performed at 2 and 7 p.m. today and at 3 p.m. Sunday. For tickets, go to Peakes Auditorium in Bangor High School beginning an hour before the performance.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/12/19/living/musical-a-holiday-gift-to-the-arts/ printed on August 1, 2014