Art Notes: Parish Players awaits ticket sales proceeds from online vendor

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alex Hanson. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Steve LeBlanc, writer and director of “The Silenced Lyre,” starts a dress rehearsal at the Parish Players’ Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, April 12, 2023. The original musical, based on the classic Russian novel “Eugene Onegin,” opens this week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Steve LeBlanc, writer and director of “The Silenced Lyre,” starts a dress rehearsal at the Parish Players’ Eclipse Grange Theatre in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, April 12, 2023. The original musical, based on the classic Russian novel “Eugene Onegin,” opens this week. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News – Jennifer Hauck

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-10-2023 3:34 AM

For a small community theater, Parish Players has had some pretty big shows over the last year.

Last fall, a production of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” filled the house, as did the annual festival of 10-minute plays in February. And in April, a production of Lebanon resident Steve LeBlanc’s original musical, “The Silenced Lyre,” and a May production of two Bertolt Brecht plays also sold well.

But the nonprofit company has found itself in a financial hole. Its ticket vendor, Brown Paper Tickets, paid out the ticket money for “The Play that Goes Wrong,” but has paid out less than half of what it collected from patrons for two of the shows this year, and nothing from the third, Parish Players’ officials said.

“Before we lost this money, we weren’t living play-to-play,” Robert O’Leary, chairman of Parish Players’ board of trustees, said in a phone interview. “Now we’re living play-to-play.”

The company, based in the Eclipse Grange Theatre on Thetford Hill, is owed around $15,000, O’Leary said, and now has only around $4,000 in its coffers. It has been surviving despite the lack of revenue, but “ultimately, yeah, we do need all of our ticket sales.”

In many nonprofit theaters, ticket sales account for around half of revenue, with the rest coming from tax-deductible donations and corporate sponsors.

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Parish Players have asked for their money by phone and by email, and two separate lawyers worked pro bono to send letters demanding payment, O’Leary said. Thus far, the ticketing company has been silent.

“It’s almost as if they don’t see us as anything they need to worry about,” O’Leary said.

I called the phone numbers on the websites for the company and its parent, Events.com, which ended in phone messages that say the companies “are not offering phone support at this time.” An email to Brown Paper Tickets was not returned.

This is not the first time Brown Paper Tickets has run into trouble paying event organizers, and not the first time an Upper Valley theater has been shorted. We the People Theatre, based in White River Junction, used Brown Paper Tickets for a production of “Man of La Mancha” in the Briggs Opera House. When the onset of the coronavirus pandemic canceled the production, ticket holders and We the People, struggled to get their money back, Perry Allison, We the People’s producing artistic director said at the time.

In an email this week, Allison said We the People was repaid in full, but not until November 2022, a full 20 months after the production was canceled.

Brown Paper Tickets is based in Seattle, and action by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office resulted in a March 2021 settlement requiring the company to pay all $9 million it owed to an estimated 45,000 people around the country. Many of those were ticket holders, but most of the money was owed to organizers of small events, such as school theater productions or benefit musical performances.

Recent news accounts suggest Parish Players is not the only event organizer awaiting payment from Brown Paper Tickets for shows in the past year.

A request to the Washington AG’s office for an update on Brown Paper Tickets was not returned by press time.

For the current production, “The Humans,” which has performances set Thursday through Sunday, Parish Players switched to a different ticketing service. That change made it harder to publicize this show, so ticket sales are down, O’Leary said.

Not all that long ago, to get a ticket for a show at Parish Players you phoned and left a voicemail message. A return call confirmed your reservation and you paid by check or cash at the door. But people wanted to be able to pay by credit or debit card, O’Leary said, and that’s what led the company to Brown Paper Tickets.

It’s worth asking whether, in our drive for convenience, we’re ruining some of the quirks that made the Upper Valley an enjoyable place.

Parish Players is the most robust community theater company in the Upper Valley. It needs money to survive, but it also has what money can’t buy: grit. I expect they’ll get their money, however long it takes them.

“We’re not going to fold up so easily,” O’Leary said.

For tickets to “The Humans,” go to parishplayers.org.

A big show

Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts presents a double bill Saturday night that sounds like something special.

Ranky Tanky, a Charleston, S.C.-based quintet, performs music from the Gullah culture of the Sea Islands of the American Southeast.

Their music ranges from jazz stomps to high-flying spirituals.

Joining them is Ms. Lisa Fischer, a legendary backup singer for the likes of The Rolling Stones, Chaka Khan and Nine Inch Nails who is now touring on her own. Fischer ranges widely across American music, from soul and blues to gospel and pop. She was featured in the 2013 documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” about backup singers who provided the backbone for classic American music.

When I checked Wednesday morning, it looked like there were still good seats  available. For tickets ($30-65), go to chandler-arts.org.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

CORRECTION: Parish Players received all of its ticket revenue from its production last fall of "The Play that Goes Wrong." Officials at the Thetford theater company say Brown Paper Tickets owes $15,000 in ticket revenue from three productions this year. The productions for which Parish Players is owed money were incorrect in a previous version of this story.