Anniversaries mark success of downtown entertainment venues

Feb. 7, 2013
Songs of the 1950s and '60s will be performed by the Marvelous Wonderettes from April 17 through 20.
Reminder Publications submitted photo
By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — In the city's Entertainment District there are two anniversaries being celebrated this month: the 15th year that Springfield Performing Arts Development Corporation (SPADC) has managed City Stage and Symphony Hall and the 100th anniversary of Symphony Hall itself.

Tina D'Agostino, president of SPADC, told Reminder Publications there are challenges in running both venues and finding entertainment offerings that will fit physically in the spaces as well as find an audience.

SPADC was founded in 1998 when StageWest closed and it took over the management of Symphony Hall shortly after.

D'Agostino said the advantage is one management team is now in charge of coordinating the events and schedules for the two buildings as well as maintaining one box office for both.

In the entertainment world size does matter and D'Agostino said one of the lessons learned early on with CityStage is its relatively small size of 479 seats prohibits holding a production for 15 to 24 performances because the overhead increases.

"If it's not sold out, it's not really worth it," she explained.

Today many of the productions at the theater are there for a maximum of five performances, D'Agostino added.

At Symphony Hall, the difficulty is that many touring Broadway shows have sets and staging that simply don't fit on the stage. D'Agostino noted, though, that many touring shows are now redesigning their productions to fit in smaller venues without sacrificing the quality of the show.

What has helped SPADC has been successful fundraising and corporate sponsorship efforts, she said.

"We wouldn't be here without that support," D'Agostino said.

Booking shows is intensive task, she said. D'Agostino recently returned from a national booking conference and said, "It was a great experience to see a lot of showcases and to get a taste of the show."

She brings those notes back to speak with the programming committee for the two theaters and has a large "maybe pile." Many shows send DVDs of their productions to review.

The success of a show in Springfield is "very hard to predict," D'Agostino said.

"I wish I had a crystal ball," she said with a laugh.

What may sell out a theater in another state may not do well here, she explained. She was a little worried about "Spank!" a parody of the best-selling book "Fifty Shades of Grey," but it turned out to be "extremely successful."

She admitted, "Heavy dramas have never really worked for us," adding that both venues have to "play it safe."

The goal of the SPADC is to "bring tons of people downtown," D'Agostino said, and she has to be fiscally responsible in the shows they bring.

This month, the group will present "Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack" Show
on Feb. 16 at Symphony Hall; "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up!"
a new comedy about love and marriage
Feb. 20 through 24 at CityStage; and Bowfire, a musical show featuring violins, dance and song,
on Feb. 28 at Symphony Hall.

D'Agostino said she "can't take the credit" for the on-going success at Symphony Hall, but noted its many on-going uses. Besides shows, the venue is home to the Springfield Symphony, the Springfield Forum lectures, many graduations and special events such as the Enshrinement Ceremony for the Basketball Hall of Fame and the senatorial debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

Symphony Hall opened in February 1913 and was the first part of the Municipal Group to be opened, she said. Although it has been renovated several times, the building has maintains its original character.

"I love when little kids come though it and they are so impressed," D'Agostino said.

D'Agostino is hopeful about the future and what a possible downtown casino could mean to the two theaters. She said both casino operators interested in downtown Springfield MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming have signed memorandums of understanding with SPADC, but it is still too early in the process to make plans.

For more information on the shows offered at CityStage and Symphony Hall, go to

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