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home : most recent : arts January 15, 2019

12/26/2018 5:29:00 PM
Porter County opera house rises from near extinction to make record growth
The Memorial Opera House in Valpariso. Staff photo by Tony V. Martin
+ click to enlarge
The Memorial Opera House in Valpariso. Staff photo by Tony V. Martin
The Memorial Opera House in Valpariso. Staff photo by Tony V. Martin
+ click to enlarge
The Memorial Opera House in Valpariso. Staff photo by Tony V. Martin

Joyce Russell, Times of Northwest Indiana

VALPARAISO — It wasn't that many years ago the future of the Memorial Opera House was in question.

It was costing Porter County money, Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, said, and some were ready to stop funding the more than century-old building and its operations.

"I truly believe in the arts. It brings us together, makes us better people," Blaney said, adding the opera house was given one last chance to prove itself viable.

Blaney said new leadership has turned the opera house around. It started with Trinidad Snider, who was hired as director in 2014, after season ticket sales dropped dramatically and the facility suffered a shortage of cash.

The county pumped money into the facility. The foundation was resurrected and charged with raising funds for operations. The opera house began to be run more professionally.

Scot MacDonald came in as director after Snider's departure to continue the turn around.

MacDonald said by the end of this year, some 20,000 people will have walked through the opera house doors. 

"Season ticket sales have exploded. Year over year we have more than doubled our revenue of ticket sales from 2013 to today," MacDonald said. In 2013, season ticket sales was $35,000. This year could top $80,000. The projected end of the year ticket sales is $355,453, compared to $229,622 in 2013.

While the new year is a bit more than a week away, MacDonald said season tickets for the five main stage productions of the 2019 season are already 30 percent to 35 percent sold out.

MacDonald said several factors have contributed to the opera house's continued rise from the ashes.

"I attribute it to the passion of our staff. We have increased so many things," he said, crediting several initiatives to improved financial and physical conditions at the opera house.

The newly formed children's theater has been a boon for revenue. In 2015, there was no income from the group. This year's ticket sales are projected to top $14,000.

MacDonald said they have also worked to build their base by giving people what they want. In 2015, operators sent out a survey asking patrons what they wanted to see and then gave it to them.

"Now they are trusting us to give them other things, which is a bit of a risk," MacDonald said.

Improvements to the building itself have also been made over the years with the help of grants from the county. A feasibility study was completed this summer looking at expansion as well as preservation options, MacDonald said, adding they are researching options for funding for those improvements.

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