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Ticket Hoopla : Enthusiasm Runs High as 1st Batch of Winners Is Drawn for Civic Arts Grand-Opening Performance


Mark Wagner had just won a chance to draw down his bank account by $150. And he was so excited, he couldn't sit still.

Moments after a telephone call alerted him that he had won an opportunity to buy tickets to the Civic Arts Plaza's grand opening bash, Wagner jumped in his car and dashed over to Thousand Oaks City Hall to plunk down the dough.

In sneakers and shorts, he went straight to the finance department to write a check for two $75 tickets for the orchestra level. But when he approached the clerks, Wagner said, "They were absolutely flabbergasted that anyone had shown up." Bounced from the finance department to the city manager's office to the theater department, Wagner found no one willing to take his money.

As it turned out, they were in the council chambers, plucking index cards from a shopping cart to complete the public drawing for ticket-buying opportunities. "We didn't expect anyone so soon," theater operations supervisor Marianne Corney said, bewildered until she tracked down executive secretary Ann Hammerslag, who handles the grand opening ticket sales.

With all the hoopla surrounding the grand opening gala, the theater staff probably should have expected winners to storm City Hall. After all, nearly 4,000 people had entered the drawing for a chance to buy tickets--even though the cheapest available seats cost $50 apiece.

"It's a night that will be remembered for a long time in the Conejo Valley," explained Steve Pollastrini, another winner. "I'm thrilled."

In the hourlong drawing, conducted by members of the League of Women Voters and certified by the Agoura Hills city clerk, theater department staffers pulled 1,500 index cards, and numbered each with an official stamp.

Wagner's card was the 219th selected, and volunteers called him immediately to offer him the chance to buy two tickets. Of the 1,500 winners, only a few hundred were contacted Monday morning. The rest will languish on a waiting list until box office managers figure out exactly how many celebrities, politicians and reporters will try to cram into the theater on opening night--and how many seats will be left over for the general public.

Because Bernadette Peters and the Conejo Symphony Orchestra will be using a stage platform that cuts into the first three rows, the auditorium will hold only 1,660 seats. Some have been set aside for the Broadway star's entourage, others for local and national media--including journalists from Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

City officials and major donors got first crack at buying general tickets, and they snapped up hundreds of the choicest--and priciest--seats. Left with only about 1,000 open seats, theater officials decided to hold a public drawing and offer tickets to winners on a first-come, first-served basis.

A dozen volunteers from the nonprofit Friends of the Civic Arts Plaza telephoned the first batch of winners, contacting confused spouses, overjoyed ticket-buyers and hundreds of answering machines.

The tickets themselves--oversized turquoise and purple mementos--will be mailed to buyers in September. They're now sitting in a City Hall vault, locked up until the box office manager can count every single one.

"We've got $200,000 worth of tickets in that box," theater director Tom Mitze said. "They're more valuable than cash because you can scalp them."

Recognizing the crush for tickets, Mitze recently turned in the two he had purchased for the Oct. 22 black-tie affair.

"I'll be there, all right," he said, "I just can't sit down." His wife might have preferred a plush auditorium chair, but Mitze said he'll be quite satisfied to pace in the back, anxious and beaming. "I wouldn't have been able to sit anyway," he said.


While Bernadette Peters' two evening concerts are sold out, about 800 seats are available for another grand-opening event: the Civic Arts Plaza Showcase. The variety show, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m., will feature the Bob Florence Limited Edition Big Band, several local choirs and the Ballet Arts School of Dance. Entertainer Tommy Finnan will serve as master of ceremonies. Tickets cost $5 and $25 apiece and are available at the box office, (805) 449-ARTS.

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