A glance at some theater and performing arts venues that are thriving in the First State.

It’s been a year since the historic Schwartz Center for the Arts closed its doors, leaving Dover residents to look elsewhere for fine arts entertainment.

While the Schwartz Center struggled before finally closing, other theaters and performing arts venues across the state thrive and continue to grow.

The following is a look at some of the groups and organizations in Delaware, and how they continue to prosper in the community.

1. Premier Centre for the Arts - Milton

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 108 SEATING CAPACITY 292 SHOWS PER YEAR Over 300 this year

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“The number-one type of show people are coming to are musical acts/tributes,” said Fred Munzert, owner of the Premier Centre for the Arts, which operates out of the historic Milton Theatre.

“Tributes are an interesting kind of art. They kind of carry on the essence of the original artist, some of whom have already passed; and some are still living, but maybe they aren’t touring. It’s a way for people to enjoy and reminisce the artist in a live setting, as opposed to watching a video.

“It’s also cheaper to see a tribute artist. We have a Barbara Streisand tribute artist who comes and she’s amazing. She’s just a dead ringer for Barbara,” Munzert said.

Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Two areas we looked at really increasing audience on and trying to get people more interested in are the jazz and classical audiences,” Munzert said. “I’m a jazz and classical musician. That’s what I did previously in my profession. I really want people to appreciate the art form. Those are two genres that are less attended, so we do less of those shows.”

Munzert explained his theory on why jazz and classical shows have low attendance.

“Sometimes having education in those areas can cause you to appreciate the art forms more, because you understand what the discipline is,” he said. “And not everything is for everybody. We have 300 shows a year. I’m not expecting all of them to sell out. We do sell out a lot of shows, but it’s just crazy to assume all of them will.”

What’s your five-to-10-year plan?

Munzert said his plan revolves around a $5 million capital campaign to improve the theater.

“We will in the next three to five years be putting the balcony back in, which will take us closer to a 500-seat capacity. It’ll probably be at 800 or 900 capacity for standing room-capacity at that point,” he said. “We’ll be redoing the entire facade of the building and putting the marquee back.

“We’ll be adding artist housing, so that we can house artists when they come through," Munzert said. "We’ll redo the whole bar area. We’re going to completely redo the whole facility.”

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

“Every town has its own personality, so listen to the town, to the people; and show art people want to come to see,” he said. “I’m an artist. To be honest, tribute acts are not something I love. It’s something I don’t even think I’ve bought a ticket to in my life. But I know people like it, so it’s stuff that I show. If I just show all the stuff that I like, I’d only be doing a couple shows a month.”

2. Copeland Hall - Wilmington (in The Grand Opera House)

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 147 SEATING CAPACITY 1,200 SHOWS PER YEAR Around 60

3. Baby Grand - Wilmington (in The Grand Opera House)

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 18 SEATING CAPACITY 300 SHOWS PER YEAR About 20

4. Playhouse on Rodney Square - Wilmington

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 105 SEATING CAPACITY 1,250 SHOWS PER YEAR About 40

The Grand Opera House manages Copeland Hall, the Baby Grand and the Playhouse on Rodney Square. Mark Fields, executive director for each, said his answers for Copeland Hall apply to the Baby Grand and the Playhouse.

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“We kind of break down our programming into a couple of different buckets. One is what we call our ‘music and variety’ programming. There’s a really heavy emphasis on music there,” said Fields. “A lot of pop, rock and folk music are three genres that are very popular here.”

Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw?

“There are some genres that we have not been able to find a big enough audience for,” Fields said. “So we don’t do much dance, although we have a flamenco show coming up this year that we’re doing. We don’t do a lot of jazz, but there’s still one or two artists coming up in the upcoming season that would be considered jazz. We also don’t do a lot of world music.”

When it comes to bringing in audiences, Fields said he and his team allow the community to play a big role in curating their seasons, based on the feedback they receive from them, because in theory, the patrons own the theater.

What’s your five-to-10-year plan?

We have a three-year plan, because five-year plans are hard to manage. The world changes way too fast for a five-year plan,” Fields said. “We’re always looking to diversity our programming, both by the art that’s on the stage and by the audience it appeals to.”

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

‘Go out and solicit what the community wants to see; and be open to it,” Fields said. “I’ve been in this business a long time and I have seen individual performing arts centers get in trouble because they think their job is to tell the community what they ought to go see."

5. The Freeman Stage at Bayside - Selbyville

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 10 SEATING CAPACITY 2,700 SHOWS PER YEAR Over 65 

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“It just kind of depends on the season. This summer, our first couple of shows that sold out were tribute acts,” said Alyson Cunningham, communication and public relations manager.

Thus far, The Freeman Stage has had about five shows sell out this season, she said. This includes Tusk: A Fleetwood Mac tribute; Hotel California: an Eagles tribute, along with concerts by Bruce Hornsby, Smokey Robinson and OAR.

Ultimately, "what people end up talking about the most are our national acts,” Cunningham said.

Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw?

“We’d love to see more patrons experience and enjoy our free shows,” she said. “About 40 percent of our shows are free performances. That includes our Saturday morning Young Audience series. Those free events can be anything from First State Ballet to performances we’re able to present with the help of grants from the Delaware Division of the Arts. Recently we had a seven-sibling concert with The Hunts that performed. Our Young Audience series tends to be as diverse as our [main] lineup.”

Cunningham said she’s puzzled why audiences haven’t taken more advantage of their free performances.

“I don’t really know,” she said. “I think there could be this stigma, because it’s free that the quality might not be there. But I think that could be across the board in the arts world.”

She said like their main stage programs, their free events also offer “high-quality arts experiences.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

“Our hope is in the next five to 10 years we’ll have a new venue called the Coastal Arts Pavilion at Freeman Park," Cunningham said. “This would be a larger venue than we currently have with fixed seating and a covered stage. We’re hoping for it to be a 4,000-person venue with the same mission that we currently have, which is to present memorable performances and to provide inspired arts education for all.”

Cunningham said the plan is to acquire land adjacent to The Freeman Stage where they’d set up the Coastal Arts Pavilion.

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

The Freeman Stage spokesperson said the venue has a lot in common with smaller arts organizations in that money doesn’t grow on trees for them either.

“We’re a fundraiser arts nonprofit. We rely heavily on community support. Buying tickets to our events are just as important to us as receiving [funds] from our donors,” she said.

“When it comes to promotion and marketing, we’re looking to do it as low cost as possible," Cunningham said. "So social media is our friend. Facebook and Instagram and Twitter all give us the opportunity to advertise or boost posts, which can spread the word pretty quickly and far for not a lot of dollars.”

She said it also helps to have patrons engage with you and spread news about your arts organization. Asking patrons on social media to share their favorite moments at one of your events is a good way to create interaction, as is asking what types of programs they’re interested in seeing from you.

6. Delaware Theatre Company - Wilmington

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 39 SEATING CAPACITY 389 SHOWS PER YEAR 5 main stage shows

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“The big musicals that have at least seven or more people in it, and the children’s shows, especially children’s musicals. Comedies are probably our next best draw,” said Carolina Millard, patron experience manager.

Millard said their best grossing show was in fact a comedy, “Explorer’s Club,” which grossed $1 million in 2016. The comedy is a tale about a club of male explorers who are struggling with the idea of extending membership to a woman.

Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw?

Millard said whichever production fills their slot in February, their “dark month,” is often a hard sell.

“We just feel like in February no one wants to get out of the house. Our February slot is always a little bit iffy. We tend to put our dramas in that slot,” she said.

A drama is usually selected in February because that’s what their patrons enjoy.

“Our subscribers are big fans of dramas and the classics,” Millard said. “We try to put in a drama or classic within that slot, to at least make it special for the subscribers who we know are going to be there. Selling single tickets are icing on the cake. But our subscribers are our base and family. We have a single ticket goal for every production and we want to break even with that.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Bud Martin, executive and artistic director, said their focus is on donors.

“Since I took over this theater six years ago, we’ve tripled ticket sales. I doubt in the next six years I can triple it again,” Martin said. “But the goal is to consistently add single-ticket buyers, take them and try to make them multiple-ticket buyers, and hopefully subscribers and then hopefully donors.”

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

“It’s about looking at your patrons, how they buy, how loyal they are, how often they attend and asking: how can we upgrade them and get them invested and involved?” Millard said.

The theater has worked closely with the consulting agency TRG to give them a better idea of how to best cater to their audience.

7. Clear Space Theatre Company - Rehoboth Beach

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 14 SEATING CAPACITY 192 SHOWS PER YEAR Over 150

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Popular musicals, which could be anything from the golden age from the ‘30s and ‘40s to today. As an example, we just presented ‘Fun Home’ in May; it’s well known, but it’s also contemporary,” said Wesley Paulson, Clear Space Theatre executive director.

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Contemporary plays will draw a smaller crowd. We still do them, because we want to offer that, since there are people who don’t want to see musicals,” Paulson said. “We intentionally know ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘Footloose’ will sell out the theater. But a contemporary play like ‘Wit,’ which is about cancer, is just not going to draw that big crowd. So we plan for that financially when we plan the show.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Paulson said he and his peers are considering a new facility with a stage that’s spacious enough to simultaneously accommodate a cast of 20 or more performers standing shoulder to shoulder.

Being able to offer more shows with complex staging like that, such as a sizzling musical like “Hamilton,” is something that his patrons have requested, Paulson said.

Part of the strategic plan involves upgrading their seats to more comfortable seating, something patrons have been asking for, he said.

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

Listening to the comments of patrons is a priority to the Clear Space staff, Paulson said.

A key way he and his team receive feedback is through surveys. That’s how they learned their patrons desired more comfy seating and shows with complex staging.

“Anybody who buys a ticket online receives a survey,” Paulson said. “We like to know your impressions of the show, would you recommend it to others, and what type of performances you’d like to receive in the future.”

8. Smyrna Opera House

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 148 SEATING CAPACITY 260 SHOWS PER YEAR 30 programs

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Any kind of theater productions and marching bands,” said Emily Cummings, communications manager for the Smyrna Opera House. “There was a group from England called the Romford Drum & Trumpet Corps. They visited from England [on July 3] hosted by the Citizens Hose Company Band, the fire company band in Smyrna. That show did really well. It was packed. We had to turn people away.”

In 2016, a German band performed at the Opera House, which also attracted a large audience. The theater has had some success hosting concerts, including Delaware outfits.

“We had Nothin’ But Trouble on June 23 and they pulled a big crowd. Everyone really raved about it,” Cummings said.

Ovation Dinner Theatre, a troupe specializing in offering interactive theater productions while feeding you, is another popular draw, she said.

Ovation is so popular the opera house has hosted most, if not all, of their productions. They’ll bring the troupe back next season to perform their new show, “80s Rewind.”

Based on success with concerts and marching bands, the historic theater will host a jazz concert and dinner catered by Main Street Market called “An Intimate Evening of Jazz with 5th Avenue.”

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Classical performances,” Cummings said. “We know they don’t draw big crowds. But we still have them, because it meets our mission statement, which is: we’re dedicated to showcasing and developing local artists; and we also want to offer affordable access to the arts and offer varied experiences to people of all ages and backgrounds. We do have people who specifically want classical.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Donna Cantillon, board president for the Smyrna Clayton Heritage Association (the body that operates the opera house), said she and her colleagues are planning to revisit their strategic plan during their next board retreat in August.

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

Cummings said it might be helpful for fellow presenting theaters to agree to do a 50/50 split of ticket sales with some of the acts, rather than a fixed rate. This is something the opera house does occasionally, and it’s garnered good results, because “it’s an incentive to the artist to promote their show,” she said.

She said she sends promotional materials to the big 55-and-older communities in the area.

“It’s a big help, because they tell their friends and their friends tell their friends,” Cummings said.

9. City Theater Company - Wilmington

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 25 SEATING CAPACITY 90 SHOWS PER YEAR Two main shows

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Probably rock musicals. We’re kind of known for doing them over the last couple of years. We did the Delaware premier of ‘American Idiots.’ It was a huge sellout for us; and ‘Hair’ was a big sellout,” said Kerry McElrone, marketing and creative director.

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Anything that is a name that isn’t known can be hard for any theater. But we have a pretty loyal audience, I think, who knows what CTC does and are game for whatever it is, even if they’re not sure what it is; and even if it’s brand new.”

Case in point, the theater premiered its original musical “On the Air” in 2013, and nearly sold out its entire run. CTC opened with the farce “After Birth of a Nation” in 2017 and “that also pretty much sold out every weekend,” McElrone said.

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Finding a spacious new home is a top priority. The company rents theater space at OperaDelaware.

“We could expand our programming, which I think is always a goal,” she said. “We could do more [educational] outreach. Currently we go to the YMCA to teach improv to children. If we had [our own] space, we could bring those kids to us, which would be cool.”

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

“Be true to your mission and values and why your company exists, and why you’re setting out to do it,” McElrone said. Marketing across various social media platforms is a must, she said.

10. Kent County Theatre Guild - Dover

YEARS IN EXISTINCE 65 SEATING CAPACITY 100 SHOWS PER YEAR Five productions

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Comedies and musicals — it’s just what our audiences enjoy most. We started doing surveys, and hands down those are the types of shows our audiences enjoy the most,” said Patti Gatto, board of trustees chairwoman.

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Murder mysteries are not big sellers, and classic dramas like “All My Sons,” “Come Back, Little Sheba,” “Glass Menagerie,” — those oldies but goodies. If it’s a dramedy, a drama with a little comedy thrown in, it’s a good middle-of the-road attendance getter,” Gatto said.

“Audiences want something light,” she said. “There’s so much seriousness going on with the state of affairs with the world. So when you come to a theater, you want to sit down, leave your cares at the door and be entertained.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

“The problem with the Theatre Guild is we have a 100-seat, tiny intimate house that’s still maintained by an all-volunteer organization,” Gatto said. “Not only are we landlocked, we’re stuck in the space we’re in. As much as we love the Patchwork Playhouse, we would have to move to another place to grow our attendance. So right now, we’re working on physical improvements to the building.”

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

“Social media has got to be part of your marketing plan,” Gatto said. “You have to have someone who’s able to be on top of marketing.”

11. Second Street Players - Milford

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 38 SEATING CAPACITY 196 SHOWS PER YEAR Five main stage shows, plus three children’s theater performances 

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Our biggest draws are our musicals, holiday shows and comedies,” said Josh Gross, board vice president. “Most musicals sell pretty well. I think whenever you do a Christmas-style show, anything for the Christmas holiday is popular, because the holiday season is when people are out and about and they want to be entertained. Some of the most famous plays or shows are holiday-themed or related.”

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

“Dramas – anything that’s heavy on the heart or soul is just hard to sell,” Gross said. “We just did an awesome show, ‘The Elephant Man,’ and nobody came to see it. We had people at the show who got so emotional it brought tears to their eyes.”

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Their goal is to enhance shows by subtracting seats.

Gross said by having fewer seats, the theater will feel fuller and will offer a better experience for the performers and patrons.

“It’s hard for actors everywhere in any theater to perform for no audience. The actors feed off the energy in the audience; and when there’s nobody out there, it’s hard for them to get into the flow of things sometimes,” Gross said.

The theater will perform undergo a lobby expansion and receive new bathrooms and an upgraded concession area.

“It’s going to offer a more enjoyable experience for people to come to our theater,” Gross said.

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

While it’s fun to perform shows you and your cast enjoy, it’s wise to give patrons productions that they’re familiar with, Gross said. 

“When you’re picking your shows, pick shows people have heard of that are popular. Don’t go with obscure titles,” the Second Street spokesman said. “Any show that’s been on Broadway is a show the people know.”

12. Possum Point Players - Georgetown

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 45 SEATING CAPACITY 184 SHOWS PER YEAR Five to six main stage performances, along with about two more shows

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

Well-known musicals such as “Les Miserables” and “South Pacific” have a knack for bringing in strong crowds, said Jim Hartzell, selection chairman of Possum Point Players.

Which usually aren’t a strong draw?

Dramas can be a hard sell, because the average person isn’t familiar with many of those shows in that genre, he said.

What’s your five- to 10-year plan?

Hartzell said their plan includes discussing ways they can attract diverse performers and audience members, especially people who are between the ages of 20 to 40.

The idea is that bringing in a younger cast would help to draw in a younger audience.

Hartzell said their tentative plans also include paying off the mortgage and performing maintenance on the building.

What advice would you give to a theater company struggling with attendance?

“The simple answer is to advertise,” said Hartzell, who explained promoting on social media, mass email and through personal interaction is important.

Hartzell also said theater groups need to consider why they’re in business in the first place.

“If they are there just to make money, then do all the popular shows – musicals and comedies and, generally speaking, Christmas shows,” he said. “If they want to serve a wider spectrum of the theater community, either participant-wise or attendance-wise, then profits may need to take a back seat to variety.”

12. Bootless Stageworks - Wilmington

YEARS IN EXISTENCE 9 SEATING CAPACITY 100 SHOWS PER YEAR Five shows this season

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Musicals tend to do better than plays. If it’s current and trending, as in ‘Orange Is The New Musical,’ that usually is a hit,” said Bootless Stageworks co-founder Rosanne DellAversano.

Bootless has a knack for performing offbeat musicals over the years. This includes “Jerry Springer, The Opera” and more recently “Evil Dead, The Musical,” the latter of which sold out four performances earlier this month.

“As an adult contemporary theater, Bootless is far-reaching in its willingness to push boundaries, and has become known for being the theater company that presents works that no one else in the state will,” DellAversano said. “Even though we’re located in the basement of St. Stephen’s Church, we are not under its auspice.

“The pastor, Jason Churchill, is extremely progressive and embraces Bootless’ belief that theater is a wonderful, safe vehicle through which conversations can begin. Bootless and St. Stephen’s both engage in the Hate Has No Home Here campaign.

Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw? 

The Bootless spokeswoman said what dramas aren’t as attractive to audiences as musicals.

“The audiences in the [Wilmington] area look for escapist entertainment as opposed to cerebral, thought-provoking events,” she said.

What’s your five- to 10-year plan for growth?

“Bootless has a strategic plan, which spans five years, and is updated every two years. What we have come to realize over the past two years, in conjunction with the set metrics for a grant from The Longwood Foundation, is that growing a theater audience is a slow, tedious process,” DellAversano said.

How many years has your theater company been in existence? 9

What's the seating capacity for your shows? 100

What shows draw your biggest crowds?

“Musicals tend to do better than plays. If it’s current and trending, as in ‘Orange Is The New Musical,’ that usually is a hit,” said Bootless Stageworks co-founder Rosanne DellAversano.

Bootless has a knack for performing offbeat musicals over the years. This includes “Jerry Springer, The Opera” and more recently “Evil Dead, The Musical,” the latter of which sold out four performances earlier this month.

“As an adult contemporary theater, Bootless is far-reaching in its willingness to push boundaries, and has become known for being the theater company that presents works that no one else in the state will,” DellAversano said. “Even though we’re located in the basement of St. Stephen’s Church, we are not under its auspice.

“The pastor, Jason Churchill, is extremely progressive and embraces Bootless’ belief that theater is a wonderful, safe vehicle through which conversations can begin. Bootless and St. Stephen’s both engage in the Hate Has No Home Here campaign. 

 Which shows usually aren’t a strong draw?

The Bootless spokeswoman said what dramas aren’t as attractive to audiences as musicals.

“The audiences in the [Wilmington] area look for escapist entertainment as opposed to cerebral, thought-provoking events,” she said.

What’s your five- to 10-year plan for growth?

“Bootless has a strategic plan, which spans five years, and is updated every two years. What we have come to realize over the past two years, in conjunction with the set metrics for a grant from The Longwood Foundation, is that growing a theater audience is a slow, tedious process,” DellAversano said.