2013 U.S. Historic Theatre Survey Published

We have recently published the 2013 Historic Theatre survey containing great insights and best practices for those restoring or operating a historic theatre. More than 75 theaters from 32 states, responded to the survey. If you are interested in a copy of the newest annual survey, email us at herb@historictheatreconsultants.com with the name of your theatre and state.

Historic Theatre Building Safety

Building Safety

It is important, obviously, to protect the asset of the theatre property at all costs. For that reason a monitored system is recommended that will notify the police as well as you in the case of an intruder or fire issue. It is important to also monitor closely the issuance of keys to employees as well as a regular re-keying of important spaces. Keep the “call list” up to date so the security company knows who to wake up at 4am when they get a false alarm. Even though I lived just 5 minutes away from the theatre, I was wide awake by the time I would get there to meet the police and would tend to charge in to protect my the theatre only to find nothing.

Patron Safety

In regards to patron safety at events, as well as performer safety, an important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as “crowd control”. You can “manage a crowd” but not control a crowd. Key elements of the management of an audience include the obvious areas of adequate lighting and backup generators, a trained staff, but also it is crucial to have the correct number of professional, trained security people on hand relative to the audience. Depending on the local rules related to security in a venue (and relative to liquor sales if applicable), a minimum of 1 trained security staff per 250 guests is a must. Some cities may require uniformed off-duty police officers, while others just want to see trained staff with no other responsibilities. At my former theatre, I hired out for security as opposed to having staff. This was due to liability issues as well as the uncertainty of a four-wall rental with limited self-presenting. With rentals, I would set the security based on the attendance and my research on the type of audience I was expecting. Of course the talent’s rider would often specify security outside the artist’s dressing room door, at the front of the stage, as well as in the loading dock area which is often non-negotiable.

The adjunct to this discussion is the use of volunteers as ushers and de facto first line of security. This is not an option. I had a rule to not put volunteers in harms way or in a position where they would be exposed to potential large problems. So, I kept volunteers away from selling tickets or concessions and did not ask them to get involved with security issues. They were expected to “observe and report” and I never had a problem.

2013 Historic Theatre Survey

We’re proud to announce we are now conducting our 3rd annual Historic Theatre Survey. Last year the survey compiled data from more than 90 different theaters from coast to coast. Information in the survey covered all aspects of business practices as well as trends relative to restoration and programming. If you are interested in participating in this year’s survey go to :

2013 Historic Theatre Survey

If you are interested in receiving a copy of last year’s survey, email us:


All who participate in the 2013 survey will receive a copy of the final document.

Know Your History

Historic Theatres have a unique opportunity to continually celebrate their history. From old newspaper ads and clippings to oral histories, our theatres are a virtual gold mine of nostalgia. Having said that, its often hard to find the time to “work” that material to our own ends, given the other tasks that fill our days. With changing audience demographics, it will become harder and harder to engage patrons in our history, if we aren’t masters of it. Here are some suggestions to consider as we all struggle to stay relevant in the future, but pay homage to our past.

Use Volunteers to Research your History – Many times your volunteers can be the perfect resource for research. Not only have they demonstrated an interest in your theatre, but often they have the free time to spend at the library, on-line or interviewing the public for stories. Establish some goals and assist with direction and recognition and prepare to be wowed by what comes in.

Look Everywhere – Many times we forget to ask for help from obvious sources. Might there be plans of your theatre in the local historical society or building department plans review department? Will the local paper help to solicit stories and photographs from readers? You don’t know until you ask – or have a volunteer ask for you.

Celebrate Your Finds – Once you have some significant research/history at your fingertips, don’t keep it a secret – let the world know about it. A simple lobby display, page or two on your website and press release to the media, will no doubt lead to more information.

Communicate/Educate – It’s crucial to also share what you find with your staff and volunteers. There’s nothing worse than overhearing a volunteer tell inaccurate information to a patron. Make an effort to educate any staff that comes in contact with the public, as well as all volunteers, about the history of your building.

Who’s In Charge?

Management of a non-profit organization presents an unusual structure that can be both successful as well as prone to failure. While many historic theatres operate under a non-profit management structure, with a board of directors, there are as many horror stories as there are success stories.

Finding the right mix of talent, passion and ego in support of an organization’s mission can often be challenging, and smooth operations can often be cyclical with troubled times, depending upon the composition of key members of the management staff and board of directors. An important starting point is a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each party. For example, a non-profit board is tasked, by definition, to guide the overall actions of the organization and make sure it stays true to its mission. They are responsible for the fiscal health of the entity, as well as the legal compliance related to the tax-exempt status. They are responsible for the evaluation and performance of the C.E.O./executive director. A good board operates at a level far above the daily operations. By contrast, a board is not responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization, they are not responsible for acting as the chief spokesperson, or for reviewing staff performance issues.

An executive director of an historic theatre also has specific roles that need to be filled while not doing the board’s job. A good director will interface with the board to keep them up to speed, will offer counsel on how board decisions relate to operations and will support board activities in regard to fundraising. A good ED will also represent the organization to the community, be the liaison to the full staff and will be accountable for implementing the board’s vision of the organization.

So who’s in charge? Ideally a partnership should exist between a board chair and an executive director. A relationship based upon trust, respect, shared goals and communication. The challenge is to keep that relationship intact through changing board leadership and both good times and bad times in a theatre’s life. Much like the hiring process for an executive director, board leadership should be carefully vetted with the goal of an harmonious working relationship as the goal.