Looking behind the Paramount’s programming
By Janelle Faignant
When Rutland’s Paramount Theatre announced its 2013-2014 season last week, included were three large nationally touring Broadway theater productions.
“The Addams Family” will most likely draw a TV-culture crowd, while a different demographic will attend “Hair.” And “Man of La Mancha,” a classic, tried and true show, tends to bring an older demographic, according to Eric Mallette, the Paramount’s programming director responsible for the choices.
It’s no secret that the Paramount Theatre shows we’ve enjoyed for the last 12 years don’t just magically appear on stage. But it may be surprising to learn how much blood, sweat and tears go into bringing them to life.
The theater employs a paltry three full-time employees and four part-timers, and Mallette says it takes all hands on deck to make everything happen.
“No day is like the next, which is one of the things I really enjoy about the job,” said the 27-year-old who has been programming director for the last five years — which means that at only 22 he began running the show.
So what exactly does a programming director do? Does he choose the shows? Get them to come to Rutland?
“It’s the big question: What is it the programmers do and how do they do it,” Mallette said on a Friday afternoon. “There’s a lot of pieces that go into it.”
There is no typical day, and it’s not exactly a nine-to-five desk job.
“I think because of the small staff, everybody does everything,” he said. “Some weeks you’ll find us cleaning, other weeks you’ll find us balancing a one-and-a-half million dollar budget. Other weeks you’ll find us introducing a show from the stage, and then two weeks later you’ll find us cleaning again. Whatever it takes to make the building tick with seven people.”
“If it’s a show day,” he continued, “some of the big Broadway shows arrive at 6 or 7 a.m. and I’m usually here to greet them. The show goes up at 8 p.m., comes down at 11, and then load-out can be two to three hours. There isn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to how our schedules work. But it’s certainly a labor of passion, for sure.”
Logistically, a season lineup at the Paramount is built and determined by what’s available. In order to be financially feasible, big national tours have to play the tertiary markets — places like Rutland and Keene, N.H. – in addition to large cities like New York and Chicago.
“What’s available to a tertiary market is a little more challenging than what’s available to those number one markets,” Mallette explained.
“Part of what it is I do is try and ride the trend waves as currently as possible,” he continued.
Which means sometimes being a year behind some of the big national tours. Programming directors try to see where the big shows are going, how to make it financially feasible for them to play our market, while making sure the pricing is something the Rutland market can bear.
“What we pay an artist obviously has a direct effect on what the box office pricing structure is,” Mallette added.
There are hundreds of these smaller tertiary markets across the country, and one of them alone isn’t enough to make, say, a national tour of Stomp want to leave Boston. But with enough smaller markets with tier two and tier one markets within them, that can make it worth the producer’s time to put it on the road.
“They’re not gonna leave New York to drive to Vermont for one day. They’re gonna drive to Rutland, to Concord, to Portland Maine — a whole route put together.”
And the collaboration between the tertiary markets is a big piece of the puzzle.
“We all need each other, as badly as we need our audience. We need what’s referred to in the industry as a routing partner. We link arm in arm and discuss what we’d like to see in our markets.”
Keeping artistic integrity as the beacon is high on Mallette’s radar throughout the process; he says it’s the most important component.
“Obviously the financials are critical, but without artistic integrity, without quality on your stage, it’s not (going to) resonate at the box office.”
Mallette says it becomes a delicate balance of presenting enough events across a broad enough spectrum to keep as many people happy as possible while still maintaining fiscal responsibility.
The good news is, in the course of the Paramount’s 12 years in Rutland and Mallette’s five as programming director, there’s a track record of what the market wants and what it can bear. What a particular genre brings to the table as far as the box office is concerned becomes a big part of how the season is balanced, as the box office is the only quantifiable report used, according to Mallette.
The market is broken down into segments and subcategories such as folk music lovers, jazz music lovers, classic rock ‘n’ roll, blues, etc.
“We know what they want within those categories,” he said. “The moving target seems to be how much one particular segment can or will spend when it comes to entertainment dollars.”
“It sounds a little not-artistic,” he acknowledged, “Which certainly isn’t the case. I think the market’s hunger drives the box office.”
“I don’t have an applause-o-meter that determines that one crowd likes something more, therefore that’s what we should bring back. And, a dozen things must come through before an offer is even brought to an artist. Then you’re at the mercy of their financial situation, if the artist wants to accept the offer. If not, then the dozen other pieces so carefully strung together unfortunately mean nothing. If the artist cannot financially make it work, that’s the end all be all.”
If one genre is stronger than another, Mallette says they will do the fiscally responsible thing, which also turns out to be the artistically responsible thing — and that is present perhaps a little more of something than something else, if that’s what the market seems to want.
“The whole balance,” he added, “is, to make sure we’re introducing new arts, different kinds of culture to the audience.”
Mallette has been “taking the temperature” of audiences and says it’s obvious by the strong local community theater scene in the area that there’s a demand for musical theater.
“You could look back on previous seasons and see that we’re only growing,” he said. “This year isn’t a fluke. It’s on that upward trend, and it’s a sustainable upward trend. Which is great for us and great for the community.”
For information about Rutland’s Paramount Theatre’s 2013 season, call 802-775-0903, or go online to paramountvt.org.