Lancaster had to wait a long time and pay a hefty price for its first legit theater--the 758-seat facility opened a year behind schedule and $2.5 million over budget--but early indications are that the first season at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center will be a hit.
Not only was the gala Nov. 22 opening performance sold out, its open-house celebration two days later was a mob scene. "We had people lining up at noon to see the building, even though we were not scheduled to open the doors until 4 p.m.," said Susan Davis, the city's cultural arts superintendent.
In all, 3,500 people attended opening day. They took a free tour of the $10-million arts center, which is the only theater for live events in the entire Antelope Valley.
Ticket sales for upcoming events at the theater are also going well. Three early-December performances of "The Nutcracker" by the Oakland Ballet were sold out the first day they went on sale. Also sold out was a Shirley Jones concert on Dec. 21.
"But it is not just the middle-of-the-road events that people are buying," Davis said. "They are also taking chances on things that are a little out there."
Season-ticket buyers can choose six events from the roster of 16.
"They might pick Shirley Jones or Harry Blackstone, but they are also taking the Joe Goode Performance Group, the Traveling Jewish Theatre or Repertorio Espanol," Davis said.
Even if the theater sells out every performance, it will only put a small dent in its operating budget, estimated at $680,000 for the first season. But the theater was never thought of as a moneymaker, said City Manager Jim Gilley in an article that appeared in early November.
"This is not just about entertainment," Gilley said. "It's not just about the arts. A facility like this says something about who we are in this city.
"It tells people that we're not just the 'land of low-cost housing' anymore."