April 16, 2018

Hanover Theatre seeking to become cultural epicenter

Troy Siebels President & CEO The Hanover Theatre, Worcester

Founded: Nonprofit founded in 2002, theater opened in 2008
Employees: 26 full-time, and 50 full-time equivalents
Age: 49
Residence: Shrewsbury
Education: Bachelor of fine arts in production and scene design, North Carolina School of the Arts

Later this year, The Hanover Theatre will open 1920s-themed restaurant Josephine, which is part of a much larger strategy to turn its section of downtown into a thriving Theatre District.

How's the fundraising coming along?

We are in the middle of a $10-million capital campaign. We've raised $8.3 million, so we want to bring it home over the next year and a half. It is our Theatre District campaign, so it includes the dollars allowing us to move into the building next door to the theater and open the conservatory for community classes. Now the last piece we are focusing on is outward facing.

Outward facing?

It's the programming on the new plaza out front of the theater, and the black box theater at 20 Franklin St.

Black box is an industry term meaning the space is flexible where you can set up the stage and the seating in different ways. The space itself is a partnership between the Worcester Business Development Corp. and the Worcester Cultural Coalition, but we will manage the space and keep it active.

What's new about the Main & Southbridge street plaza?

The existing triangle has been there for awhile, but the city's plan to reroute Southbridge Street is new. That will happen in 2019 when the city will move the actual road to create a much bigger plaza – more open and inviting than what is there now.

Our plan is to program it very frequently, so there is always something going on: a performance, a class, an activity like live music at lunchtime on Fridays. If you have a Broadway show going on in the theater, maybe something related to that will go on at the plaza.

Other organizations will help bring activity to the plaza. We've talked to everybody from Worcester Polytechnic Institute to Tower Hill Botanic Garden to the Southeast Asian Coalition.

Why focus on these external efforts rather than programming?

We underwent a strategic plan a couple of years ago, and the relevant point of it was in order to be really successful inside the building, we needed to build the district outside the building.

It is an Achilles' heel right now. You can go to Boston and see the same shows with the same performers we have here. It is less expensive here. It is a lot cheaper to drive in and park, but it doesn't feel like a theater district compared to Boston. It doesn't have the same vibe where you feel like you can go out to dinner, see a show, and then go back out for drinks and dessert.

That is the reason for the restaurant, the plaza, the black box theater, and why we are working to bring others to this district. It isn't competition for us because it actually helps us.

What new will help create such a district?

The Grid District is opening a comedy club. The new beer garden at the old site of the Paris Cinema will be great. The pop-up theater opening later this month is great and will double as the main lobby of the black box theater. That is a multi-use artists' workspace.

With these long-term plans, you still need to maintain your short-term viability.
We are financially viable already as a theater. We do depend on contributed revenue and earned revenue, and it will always be that way. It is an historic building, and we will rely on the continued support of the community for the basic maintenance of the building.

But by growing the vitality of the neighborhood, that will create more stability.

What are your revenues?

Most or all of the ticket price goes to the artist for the show. Our revenue is the fee you pay when you buy the ticket. Plus, the drink at the bar or the membership you buy. Plus, we rely on contributions and sponsorships.

As the scale of the performance increases, there will be more and more revenue from those performances. More people means more drinks sold at the bar.

Can you create new revenues?

The conservatory is the new piece. We thought it wouldn't be revenue positive until year three, but it turns out it is revenue positive in year two. And there is room to grow. We have 225 children attending 62 classes. We intend to invest more in that.

The revenue comes from people paying for classes?

Tuition for classes or scholarships given by corporations. This year, we have given out $20,000 in scholarships to kids for conservatory classes.

Why has it been so popular?

One thing was the merger with Ballet Arts Worcester, so we have our own dance school. When we started, we tried to not compete with any of the dance or performing arts schools in Worcester, but the opportunity to merge with someone who was already out there worked really well.

The interest has grown for all the classes. We started with 25 classes last spring, and now we have 62 classes this year.

It is growing at a really good pace. We are going to be pushing against the walls soon and looking for more space.

You're going to expand out of your expansion?

Yes. We would like to continue to be here in the neighborhood, and there is time to make that happen. We don't need to expand tomorrow. It is more on the horizon.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.


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