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Some suggestions for the Cascade

Declining attendance numbers for Cascade Theatre shows this year have led theater officials to predict a $50,000 shortfall in the facility’s budget. The theater is asking for contributions to help make up the gap.

“You ask me for a contribution, weeeeeell, you know, we all want to change the world.” — John Lennon

The world, or at least the country, is a big part of the problem. In the current economic slump, one of the first things to get squeezed is money spent on entertainment. A quick glance at news stories on the Web indicates that non-profit theaters across the country are being impacted by the recession.

So that’s a lot of what’s happening at the Cascade.

The Cascade has been an extremely rich cultural asset for Redding, and it deserves support. More than 150,000 people have attended shows since it reopened in 2004. I have dozens of fantastic memories from tremendous performances there.

That said, I think it’s fair to keep a critical eye on the Cascade. For one thing, I’ve been a bit lukewarm about the theater’s 2008-09 Performing Arts Series. In August, Kenny Loggins put on an incredible show by all accounts, but tickets for that performance cost more than $70, and the theater didn’t break even. In October, Natalie MacMaster returned for the third time to the Cascade. She’s fantastic, but that’s a lot of returns over a short amount of time. The Golden Dragon Acrobats is also a fairly repetitive show.

My heart beats a bit faster at some of the shows I see in early ’09, such as Leo Kottke on Jan. 30; Robben Ford, Jorma Kaukonen and Ruthie Foster on Feb. 28; and Jake Shimabukuro on April 1. The flip side, however, is that Kottke, Ford, Foster and Shimabukuro are all returning performers.

It’s easy for me to Monday morning quarterback the whole JPR series. It’s significantly more difficult to actually put together and book a series. Organizers are faced with some daunting challenges, including booking a year in advance and working with talent agents who cut the financial margin very thin.

For a lot of the shows at the Cascade, the theater has to sell to near full capacity to make a profit. I think the theater should work with more agents, promoters and groups who are willing to either: 1, cut their performance rates back a bit to keep ticket prices lower; or 2, work on a sliding rate that protects the theater if it’s an off night. If artists are invested in getting people through the doors, they have a bigger stake in doing publicity and getting people to buy tickets.

For a long time I’ve wanted to see more shows in the $15-$25 range. Artists need gigs, and I know plenty of performers out there are not demanding $20,000 a show. The problem is, a lot of these types of performers are not easy to pin down a year in advance, and many of them don’t have huge name recognition.

But when I look at shows at the Sierra Nevada Brewery Big Room and other Chico venues, I often think: Contact these folks. See if you can package a Redding date with a Chico date.

People in Chico have learned to trust the sensibility of Sierra Nevada, even if they haven’t heard of all the artists who get booked there. Hardcore music fans look at the schedule and go, “Yep, good stuff.”

I guess what I’m suggesting is a little more grassroots approach. It’s always bothered me that so many agents wedge theaters like the Cascade into a thin profit margin where it’s so easy to lose money. Maybe it’s time to cut out some of those agents and artists. Typically, artists have integrity and want to see the venues they perform in succeed.

It might be a bit of a paradigm shift. Perhaps these suggestions are not applicable at the Cascade for reasons I’m unaware of. Sometimes I think maybe Redding’s just not a big live performance town. However, I’ve seen enough packed houses around here to know that people do like to get out.

If 400 people spend $20 to see a show at the Cascade (it holds 999), it seems like there could be a successful scenario in there somewhere. That means that act on stage is playing for $4,000-$5,000. There are a lot of great groups who would play for that, especially on a weeknight when they’re traveling. The gray area is whether Redding turns out for those types of shows.

I’m talking about the touring shows, but a tip of the hat goes to James Santos’ “A Cascade Christmas,” which did almost as well this year as last year attendance-wise. I think that’s pretty remarkable considering the economic slump we’re in. Quality homegrown shows are so enriching and wonderful at the Cascade. (By the way, I’ve heard some real good buzz about the upcoming Redding City Ballet “Nutcracker.”)

Those homegrown shows are another huge reason the Cascade needs to keep succeeding.

Jim Dyar

is a journalist who focuses on arts, entertainment, music and the outdoors. He is a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding and can be reached at jimd.anewscafe@gmail.com

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