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THE CENTER : A Year of Discovery : Arts Center Hopes to Hustle Up a Second Great Year

September 17, 1987|CHRIS PASLES | Times Staff Writer

Expect the Orange County Performing Arts Center to be out hustling a little more during the 1987-88 season.

"We had a sensational first year," Center President Thomas R. Kendrick said in a recent interview. "We operated heavily on subscriptions, and building capacity averaged 86% for everything.

"But it would be unrealistic, nor do we expect, to be so heavily attended in the future. . . . What we don't know is how deep an audience we have, how many single tickets we are going to sell and what our drawing power is outside our immediate area."

Agreed Center chairman Henry T. Segerstrom: "A performing arts center needs . . . a receptive market within the area of (its) reach."

But he was also, typically, more optimistic: "I think we're beginning to witness an equal or greater success in the market from season subscriptions, and it looks like the second year could be as good as the first year in terms of audiences."

Kendrick said the Center has already scheduled as many events for 1987-88 as the first year's grand total--and will be adding. "So we are on target to exceed this year's usage."

And subscription sales for the second season seem to be going well. "The musicals series is virtually sold out," he said, adding that the ballet series has brought in 10,000 subscribers so far.

"We are very pleased," he said. "But there is quite a difference between offering one week of New York City Ballet and one week of (American Ballet Theatre's) 'Nutcracker,' with a 45,000-person potential audience, and what we're doing this year: offering four companies for five weeks, with a potential audience for 114,000.

"In fact, we still have as many single tickets to sell (for this series) as we did last year for all of the ballet performances. Which means, it's going to be open."

It also means a keener sense of marketing is one of the challenges facing the Center--especially considering that even with its successes, the Center faces a projected annual operating deficit of $4 million to $5 million.

Kendrick said anticipation about the Center's opening ran so high last year that it was not necessary to advertise heavily, which reduced Center spending substantially.

"(However,) the reverse side of that is that we did not establish a presence outside our immediate area," he said. "It takes years to establish a stable subscription audience, and it takes years to establish a single-ticket-buyer market. What you thrive on, over the long term, is a combination of subscriptions and single-ticket sales."

Kendrick said he generally does not fear competition with other arts presenters in Southern California. But he did express some worry that the Joffrey Ballet, which will open the Center's ballet subscription series on Sept. 22, is advertising for its own engagement in Los Angeles, which opens Sept. 30 with some overlaps in repertory.

"So we do want to get the word out that, except for musicals, the community is going to have a lot easier chance to get good single tickets (here)."

On the technical end, Kendrick said, about $210,000 has been spent to "fine tune" the natural acoustics of Segerstrom Hall and to modify the amplification system used for musicals, pop concerts and other events.

"There were specific areas--and small ones--in the hall where there was distortion," he said. "You can't test a sound system till you get your hall built. And sound systems will always be a problem. Every group that comes in, every attraction, tunes it differently. We were lucky to have the dark time this summer so that modifications could be made."

Otherwise, "there were very few technical difficulties. We have not been forced to delay or cancel a performance since we opened--which is quite a record for a brand-new facility."

Kendrick said the Center is "a little ahead of the game" in plans to move into an advance-funding method of operating. Advance funding "means you would have enough money in reserve so that you can make major programming commitments months and years ahead," he said. "If you're on a pay-as-you-go basis, you have to find the money before you can commit."

Kendrick said the Center had to pass on bringing back the New York City Opera next season because it didn't have such reserve funding. "But I don't think we've paid any other penalties this year." The main reason there will be no return appearance in 1987-88 of New York City Ballet--whose first West Coast appearance in 12 years was the Center's biggest first-season coup--is that the company is not touring this year, Kendrick said.

The Center will be adopting a broader programming stance "to reach a more diverse market," Kendrick said. Next year, in addition to repeating offerings of orchestras, ballets, operas and musicals, the Center will be testing a jazz and a variety series, including mime Marcel Marceau and the popular Romero family of guitarists, among other attractions.

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