December 11, 2008
Holiday laughs trump the recession at Hillsboro's Venetian
The company may sell out its four-day run of "The Eight: Reindeer Monologues," billed as "a saucy night of holiday cheer" for the 21-and-older crowd at downtown Hillsboro's stylish Venetian Theatre. The company's board has authorized adding another performance if necessary.
"In an economy like this, you'd think we would be looking at scaling back," said Scott Palmer, artistic director and co-founder of the county's only professional live theater company west of Tigard.
Three weeks before its Dec. 18 opening, 70 percent of the seats for "Reindeer Monologues" were sold, nearly matching the entire box office for "Steel Magnolias," Bag & Baggage's first play as the resident company at the 400-seat Venetian.
General admission tickets for large-scale Venetian productions, such as the upcoming "The Comedy of Errors," run at least $22 -- higher than prices at well-regarded community theaters such as Hillsboro Artists' Regional Theatre and Theatre in the Grove. But Palmer said Bag & Baggage's caliber and venue are comparable to the region's best live theaters.
"A lot of people from Hillsboro have been spending 60 to 75 bucks a ticket to see a performance in Portland," said Palmer, a 1986 graduate of Hillsboro High School. Saxony Peterson, co-owner and general manager of the Venetian, sees the arrival of Palmer's company to her new theater and bistro as further evidence of a revival in downtown Hillsboro.
In Portland, some prominent live performance groups have reported a slip in ticket sales as the economy worsens. For example, as of late November, pre-sales for Oregon Ballet Theatre's "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" were down 9 percent compared with the same date last year, marketing director Erik Jones said.
Jo-Netta Fox, box office manager for "Portland's Singing Christmas Tree," said before the production that overall sales were average, but "I am seeing a lot of my less-expensive seats go faster than the prime seats."
"It's been our sense that sales are softer than we want them to be, but they're not falling through the floor or anything," said Ross McKeen, managing director of Oregon Children's Theatre in Portland.
Theatre in the Grove also reported slightly weaker early sales for its current musical, "The King and I."
Even if a bit soft in spots, the region's live theater scene is healthier than some. Ballet BC in Vancouver, B.C., for example, recently laid off all its dancers and many other employees due to poor sales.
Locally, light holiday fare such as Lakewood Center for the Arts' "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," Artists Repertory Theatre's "Holidazed" and HART's "Dickens' Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty in Two Acts" is bringing holiday jingle to theater box offices.
"Reindeer Monologues" is doing just that for Bag & Baggage, a former traveling company that expects to close its first resident season in the black, thanks to surging ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, grants and individual donations. It takes most companies three years to turn a profit, said Lynda Forrest, a member of Palmer's advisory board. "To do it in year one is a big achievement."
Palmer said Jeff Goode's play is "very funny, very irreverent, very adult." In it, Santa is implicated in some nasty business involving Vixen, here a reindeer with a loose reputation. Each of the eight reindeer -- including a gay Cupid, a hard-core feminist Blitzen and a bitter Prancer, all portrayed by actors in antlers -- gives an interview worthy of an unbleeped appearance with Jerry Springer.
"Every major Christmas icon, except for the obvious one, has a target painted on it for this show," Palmer said. "You'll never think about Christmas elves in the same way."
The Oregonian's West Bureau: firstname.lastname@example.org
"The Eight: Reindeer Monologues"
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18, 19 and 20; 2 p.m. Dec. 21
Where: Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St., Hillsboro
Tickets: $18 adult (21 and older); $15 senior citizens