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Thursday, April 5, 2018 12:09 am

New director plans changes for Sangamon Auditorium

Six Broadway shows coming to Springfield

Nov. 8 at Sangamon Auditorium: “We like ham and jam and spamalot”


Bryan Rives took over as director of Sangamon Auditorium in October 2017 and has been busy for the past six months reimagining the 40-year-old, 2,005-seat venue both physically and conceptually. His plans include a revamped approach to booking and some long-overdue renovations as well as an upcoming overall rebranding.

“It’s been going fantastic,” said Rives during a recent conversation in his office in the Public Affairs Center on the campus of University of Illinois Springfield, which also houses the auditorium. “The staff here is wonderful, the university administration is very supportive. They are definitely looking for us to build on the past success and to present a wide range of shows.”

Increased attendance and more fiscal responsibility are high on his list of priorities. “We need to focus on presenting shows that will attract a large audience – at our capacity, it’s not a good feeling for the performing artists, or for the audience, when only 300 people come for the show.” He explained that there is a large amount of financial risk every time the auditorium presents a show. “Jazz at Lincoln Center and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater were both incredible performances with high artistic quality,” he said, “and I’m glad they were presented here. But each of them came at a financial loss of about $25,000. That’s two shows, a total of maybe four hours of entertainment, that ended up costing the university $50,000.”

One method of cutting costs is Rives’ decision not to continue printing and distributing the auditorium’s longstanding annual brochure containing an entire year’s worth of information about performances ranging from concerts to Broadway musicals to kids shows. He characterizes the brochure as unwieldy and ineffective. “It was a very costly item and it tried to be everything to everybody,” he said.

The demise of the brochure reflects an overall change in how the venue will book events in the future. “We’re coming out with a Broadway season this year of six shows, which can be described on a flyer or a postcard.”

Director of Sangamon Auditorium Bryan Rives.
This year’s Broadway series will kick off Nov. 8 with the return of the popular, Monty Python-derived Spamalot. Next, on Jan. 30, 2019, the 20th anniversary tour of Rent will make a stop, followed by the hard-rocking jukebox musical Rock of Ages on Feb. 12. Two classic 1960s-era musicals are next, with The Sound of Music on March 27 followed by The King and I on April 15. The season comes to a close with this year’s only local debut, Finding Neverland, which dramatizes author J.M. Barrie’s real-life journey which inspired his beloved literary invention, Peter Pan.

“People may be asking what other shows we are planning to bring here next season,” said Rives – who was employed as director of event services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from 2007-2011, among several other prominent positions. “This is a big way of rethinking about it, but we’re not looking at it as a season. The auditorium will now see itself as a year-round presenter.” Instead of front-loading the public with a full season of announcements, upcoming auditorium shows – outside of the Broadway titles above – will each be announced individually throughout the year. “It gives us more flexibility,” Rives explained. “We want to have more big-name artists and big name concerts, so we have started to form relationships with several commercial presenters and promoters that work in our region.” It is through those commercial organizations that the auditorium has brought in recent performers such as popular comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Ron White as well as the recently announced concert by humorous country singer Rodney Carrington on June 2. “These types of shows would have never been able to appear in a glossy brochure, announced a year in advance,” said Rives.

Sangamon Auditorium patrons will also notice a change in ticket prices. “We have adjusted the pricing so we have a more affordable entry-level price,” said Rives. “For example, for the Broadway shows, people can get a front-row balcony seat for just $49, whereas before that same seat would have been $77.” At the same time, orchestra seats, formerly $83, have increased to $89. “Overall, our prices have decreased about 10 percent,” Rives said. “It is my personal hope that lowering the balcony price will make shows more affordable to more people.”

Rives is also planning to move forward with several maintenance projects and building updates which have been put off for the last 10 years. “Unfortunately, when [previous Sangamon Auditorium director] Bob Vaughan started the job, there was about a million-dollar deficit on the books.” This deficit was paid down prior to Rives starting in the position, meaning he began his tenure with no debt. “That being said, I’ve also been charged with not going into debt – which is why we’re going to be having a lot more offerings of commercial, big-name entertainment that hopefully will generate a surplus that can go towards the maintenance.”

There are plans to launch a full rebranding of the venue at the end of the summer, followed by a gala event in September to both reopen the building and launch a fundraising drive for lobby renovations. Rives also hopes to let more people know about the auditorium’s long-running educational outreach programs, which allow about 15,000 schoolchildren annually to view age-appropriate touring productions. Another major change is the merging of the auditorium’s “Friends” organization of donors with the volunteers who help out as ushers and ticket-takers, to create a single organization called Friends of UIS Performing Arts. “If we didn’t have their volunteer service and we had to pay people to do that, ticket prices would continue to go up, up, up,” he said.

Scott Faingold can be reached at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.


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