Bucks County Playhouse Celebrates Record Breaking Sales, Improvements
As patrons lined up for the evening performance of "Guys and Dolls" on Friday, August 4, most were already aware that the show, which closes on August 12, was a hit. Strong critical reviews and happy audiences have fueled tremendous interest in the revival - creating a demand for tickets that is unprecedented at the Playhouse.
What these patrons didn't know was that earlier in the day, the production became Bucks County Playhouse's top grossing show in its history, eclipsing a record set by the Playhouse's starry, revival of "Steel Magnolias" in 2016.
Having reopened in July 2012 following a $6 million renovation funded by the Bridge Street Foundation, very few people could have envisioned how quickly the community would respond to its productions and generate a lightening pace of growth. Audiences embraced the new direction at the Playhouse - the return of professional Equity theater to New Hope overseen by four Broadway producers and the sudden, significant economic impact on the community.
Of course, success comes with highs as well as lows. As the historic theater observed the fifth anniversary of its reopening, Bucks County Playhouse was tasked with the challenge of meeting the demands of audiences while dealing with technology that was becoming rapidly out of date.
That solution arrived in the form of a major gift from Nelson and Bette Pfundt and Marv and Dee Ann Woodall. Their support provided much needed upgrades to the Playhouse's patron services infrastructure by removing obstacles that blocked potential patrons' ability to purchase tickets. The gift has enabled the Playhouse to replace its outdated ticketing system, launch a redesigned website (BucksCountyPlayhouse.org) and upgrade the sales team and call center. This new gift follows a three-year leadership gift made in 2015 by Harlan and Sally Weissman that provided resources to expand the Playhouse audience base through advanced digital technology.
Alexander Fraser, Producing Director of Bucks County Playhouse, noted that while the community can more easily see and understand the brick and mortar changes to the Playhouse, it is often harder to grasp the immediate impact and importance of technological changes.
Fraser says, "We are incredibly grateful to Nelson and Bette and Marv and Dee Ann. Understanding our needs, they stepped up together to provide this generous gift enabling us to forge ahead at a time when our audience growth and reputation are catching fire. With their support, we can take advantage of the latest technology to revamp our entire sales model, and vastly improve our audiences' access to our work, just as our momentum is building."
Nelson Pfundt said, "Bette and I are delighted to help Bucks County Playhouse at this critical time in their growth. We've become avid fans of their work onstage, and we are very impressed by their work in the community and the vitality they are bringing back to New Hope."
Marv Woodall added, "Nelson and Bette Pfundt have been very generous to Bucks County, and Dee Ann and I are happy to join them in supporting Bucks County Playhouse as we work to make the Playhouse as attractive as possible to new audiences." Mr. Woodall serves as Chair of Playhouse Artists, the nonprofit that raises funds to support Playhouse activities.
In addition to the technological changes, construction is underway on an addition to the side of the Playhouse facing the Delaware River that will improve conditions for audiences once they have arrived at the theater - providing a lobby space, additional restrooms, a café, bar and overall greater accessibility. The expansion is scheduled to open early in 2018 and is the final stage of Bridge Street Foundation's vision for the renovated Playhouse.
Off site, the Playhouse also recently opened a remote ticket office at Peddler's Village in nearby Lahaska, the unique shopping and dining destination that draws more than 1.4 million visitors annually - each visitor a new opportunity for the Playhouse to expand its audience base. The Playhouse is also days away from launching a trolley service in downtown New Hope to make it easier for patrons to get from the borough's parking lots to the theater.
Looking at the growth of the Playhouse, Fraser explained, "We now feature performances 12 months of the year, and we are operating at more than 70% of available performance days. Artistically, our productions of 'Steel Magnolias' and 'Buddy' were top-notch and broke box office records. This year, we have four world premieres that began with 'Clue On Stage'. 'Guys and Dolls, which closes August 12, is our largest production to date and is attracting many new audiences to the Playhouse."
Over the last year alone, the Playhouse has seen a 25% increase in ticket sales. In the first quarter of 2017, that growth continued with attendance up 56% over the same quarter in 2016. Group sales are booking at double the rate of the previous year. The 2017 subscription season kicked off in May with the world premiere of "Clue On Stage" starring Sally Struthers and beat budget forecasts followed by the return of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," which originally debuted in Summer 2016 as the top grossing musical in the Playhouse's storied history. "Buddy" then moved to the Kimmel Center for a summer engagement, and the Playhouse became the first regional theatre company invited to perform at the Kimmel.
As part of this gift, the Playhouse has moved quickly to reinvent its customer service model by hiring full-time, training sales personnel, replacing the ineffective ticketing technology, relaunching its website, and renovate an unused office space next to the marketing department into a sales center.
The new website (BucksCountyPlayhouse.org) is now mobile and tablet friendly and more patron friendly. With a brighter and lighter color scheme, the new site incorporates improved navigation, as well as more video and photographs. The content has also been completely updated. Ticketing transactions are smoother, with "choose your own" seats and shopping cart technologies that were not available on the old site.
The website and ticketing infrastructure change has been good for business. Before the upgrades to these systems, only 1/3 of all ticket sales were being processed through the website. After only one month, that trend is reversed. Now 69% of all ticket sales are conducted via the website. Print at home e-tickets are becoming the popular choice from patrons. On that warm August night as they line up for "Guys and Dolls," patrons are seen grasping barcoded tickets they printed off at home - proving that Bucks audiences are fully welcoming - and benefiting from- all the technological changes.
Bucks County Playhouse, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, is the oldest and largest professional Equity performing arts center in Bucks County. Under the direction of Tony Award-winning producers, Alexander Fraser and Robyn Goodman, the Playhouse provides first class professional theatrical entertainment as well as community events, partnerships and arts education programming for visitors and residents of New Hope, Doylestown, Lambertville and the Delaware Valley.
Located between Philadelphia and New York, Bucks County Playhouse opened in 1939 in a converted 1790 gristmill after a group of community activists, led by Broadway orchestrator Don Walker and playwright Moss Hart, rallied to save the building. The Playhouse quickly became one of the country's most famous regional theaters, featuring a roster of American theatrical royalty including Helen Hayes, Kitty Carlisle, George S. Kaufman, Grace Kelly, Robert Redford, Bert Lahr, Walter Matthau, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Alan Alda, Tyne Daly, Liza Minnelli and Audra McDonald and remained in continuous operation until December 2010. In 2012, the Playhouse re-opened thanks to the efforts of the Bridge Street Foundation, the nonprofit family foundation of Kevin and Sherri Daugherty, and Broadway producer Jed Bernstein.
Since its renovation, significaNT Productions include Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons" starring Tyne Daly, which moved to Broadway and was nominated for two Tony Awards, and "Misery" by William Goldman based on the Stephen King novel which also went on to a Broadway run in the 2015-16 season. Two of the Playhouse's receNT Productions -- "Company" starring Justin Guarini, and William Finn's "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" -- were named by Wall Street Journal to its "Best of Theatre" list for 2015. The Playhouse's productions of "Steel Magnolias" and "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" broke box office records in 2016. "Buddy" returned in 2017 and transferred to the Kimmel Center, where it became the first regional theatre invited to perform at the prestigious venue. Thanks to the final stage of Bridge Street Foundation's vision for the New Hope waterfront, the Playhouse is currently in construction mode - as it adds a 4,000-square foot riverfront cafe and bar that is expected to open in 2018.