Fall Guide 2009 - Performing Arts 

Stimulus packages for the arts

By the end of last year's art season, there were deep discounts offered to fill the empty seats that plagued arts groups. This season, there are incentives to help arts fans fund their fix. The good news is that offering discounts really works.

At Theatre Downtown, veteran owners Frank and Fran Hilgenberg report that their established $10 tickets for the first-Thursday performance of new shows continues to grow in popularity, filling 30 to 50 percent more seats. A week before the debut of The Wiz, 60 of the 110 seats were already reserved for the first-Thursday show.

John DiDonna, another longtime player in the theater scene, says that for his Empty Spaces Theatre Co., the 'call-to-action' last-minute discounts announced via e-mail have been successful.

Last season, DiDonna tried a pay-what-you-can option for their sparsely attended festival of Beckett plays, and he says the experience sent the message that 'we have no value.' Empty Spaces, like Theatre Downtown, also participates in the Red Chair Project discounts.

Autumn Ames, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Florida, announced a new twist on a former program steered by Orlando Opera. Now called the Orlando Arts Sampler, $99 buys admission to 'an event at seven different cultural venues,' mostly the top-tier groups including the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, the Orlando Ballet and the Orlando Broadway Series.

In addition to the sampler, Ames says there is also the Loch Haven Cultural Pass, which gives you one visit to the Orlando Science Center, the Orlando Museum of Art and the Mennello Museum over a 14-day period. Cost is $25 for adults, $15 for kids. The promotion promises 'a savings of over 20 percent' off admission prices.

Over at the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau — CVB, for short — discounts are stacking up for the fall. The CVB website continually updates deals for visitors and locals alike, especially at the attractions and hotels, such as the $210-per-adult Universal Resort package: four nights of accommodations for the price of three, plus admission to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Wet 'n Wild.

Also warming up this year is the Downtown Arts District's Orlando Slice social networking site, where smaller arts groups can announce special promotions Facebook-style.

Arts entrepreneurs fighting for the almighty dollar are finding that residents are buying into the arts, even on limited budgets, but they want the most bang for their buck and are willing to put time and energy into finding it.

-' Lindy T. Shepherd


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