BWW Interviews: The Man Behind The McCallum Theatre: A Conversation with Incoming President and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld
The McCallum Theatre, the Coachella Valley's premiere theatrical venue, celebrates its 25th Anniversary Season with a star-studded lineup of Classical Music, Jazz, Cabaret, Comedy and a Broadway Blockbuster Series which includes Rock of Ages, Dreamgirls and West Side Story. The McCallum Theatre opened its doors on January 2, 1988 with a gala performance honoring Bob Hope that was nationally televised. Since then The McCallum has been the Coachella Valley's mecca for world-class entertainment including an extensive array of Broadway and Cabaret offerings. The man behind the tremendous success of the McCallum's eclectic performance calendar for the past thirteen years is Mitch Gershenfeld, Director of Presentations and Theatre Operations, who will take the helm as the theatre's President and CEO beginning June 1. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Gershenfeld as he begins preparations for The McCallum's exciting Silver Anniversary Season. Gershenfeld is warm, passionate, highly astute, a performing arts afficionado and a genuinely kind man. Here are a few highlights from that conversation.
DG: So, how long have you been affiliated with The McCallum Theatre?
MG: I have been here for twelve years. So this coming season is my 13th season and the theatre's 25th anniversary. I started here in 2000. And, of course, this will be my first season as the President and CEO.
DG: Where did you come from? What is your background?
MG: Before I came here I ran a Performing Arts Center in the San Diego area for three years. I was in Denver for a number of years running a couple of different venues. I was the music producer for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. I had been the Pops Director for the Atlanta Symphony prior to the Olympics. I started out as a musician – I was a professional musician for ten years and I played in Symphony Orchestras and I taught at The University of Wisconsin in Madison, so I've done the teaching thing and the musician-performing thing. I have also played in some Broadway road companies – I was lucky enough to play in the first road company of CHICAGO with Jerry Orbach and Gwen Verdon. Actually, I played three times as long as the show lasted on Broadway. I did the incredible flop that was written by Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner called 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. I was in that orchestra in its tryouts in Philadelphia for a month. So, played studio work – played symphony work – then got into the Management side of things.
DG: What do you find to be unique about the audiences out here in The Coachella Valley?
MG: This is an incredible audience. First of all, you have so many people that are here during the season that have the resources to see performances anywhere they want to see them – I mean, if they want to see Broadway shows they can go to New York or they can go to London – if they want to see Opera they can travel to see the best. I think our audience has very high expectations. Fortunately, I think, our audience, for large measure, has resources that allow us to bring in fairly substantial artists into a very small auditorium – it's only 1100 seats – and I think the level of talent you see here you normally see in venues two or three times our size. So, that I think is unique. Our audience has very high expectations and we have to work very hard to serve that audience. We also have the broader community – the people who are here year-round – and we certainly reach out to that audience and we try to make things affordable; we try to do different kinds of things that appeal to different audiences. I think it's a unique combination and I think we have a really fantastic audience. In 2008-2009 during the financial crisis a lot of theatres were seeing their attendance reduced by as much as fifty percent. That season we only had about a three percent decline in our attendance. Our audience has always been here and been supportive. I think it's a great market.
DG: Is much of The McCallum Theatre audience subscription based?
MG: No. Well, we do subscriptions but actually subscriptions count for less than a third of our total ticket sales. It's because we have such a transient population. People come here for a week, a month, three months, whatever and so to ask people to commit to an entire six month time period doesn't really work in the traditional sense of the subscription which is why we do the "create your own menu" and these sorts of things. The traditional subscription model doesn't really apply here.