The Roundabout Theatre Company, the country's second largest nonprofit theatre next to Lincoln Center, moved closer to its goal of opening the Selwyn theatre "debt free" with the announcement today that it now has 42,000 theatregoers who subscribe to the company on an annual basis.
"We've just reached 42,000 subscribers," Roundabout fundraiser Julia C. Levy told Playbill On-Line. Of that subscription base, Levy said, there are six thousand Roundabout subscribers who make a donation over and above their annual subscription, in addition to the major gift donors who make other very large contributions.
While work on the Selwyn continues, Roundabout is leasing space at the Gramercy Theatre (Give Me You Answer, Do) and the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (Rainmaker). After the Selwyn opens next spring, the once nomadic nonprofit will have found a permanent home.
The renovation is closely supervised by Roundabout's artistic director, Todd Haimes, who hosted a tour of the Selwyn and described the lengths he has gone to make artists and audiences feel as comfortable as possible there once it opens.
"I always liked theatres that were wider than they were long," Haimes said from the stage during the Dec. 3 tour. Haimes told reporters the Roundabout removed some seating at the Selwyn, re-raked the orchestra, added 15 feet of space along the West 42nd Street facade for backstage, dressing room and support areas, and specified a huge heating/air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system that provides separate and distinct climate control for the stage, orchestra, pit, backstage and lobby areas. "The Roundabout is about producing great theatre," added Levy. "but we're also about making the experience as inviting, as educational and as pleasant as possible for our subscribers." By way of example, Levy also pointed to Roundabout's commitment to build its special 5,000 square foot penthouse lobby (which will also provide separate rental income), the insistence on a full lower lobby, and ensuring that concession areas will be very accessible.
Hinting at an issue that plagues audiences at venues everywhere, Levy also said that at the Selwyn the seats are larger and "there are not only more rest rooms for women -- but for men as well."
"It's all part of Todd's philosophy," Levy said, "but in short, our mission is to serve both the subscribers and the artists. Customer service has always been a top priority. For instance, when subscribers buy tickets to a show, and they discover that they've lost their babysitter, they can call up until 4 PM on the day of the show and someone will be there to take that call, graciously accept a cancellation and make another date."
Levy told Playbill On-Line that Roundabout's Selwyn renovation is now a $21 million project (up from $17 million a few months ago). "We have just over $15 million," Levy said. "Our goal is to open the Selwyn debt free. We're looking to completely fund the project by June 2000."
Levy said that one of the compelling reasons supporting Roundabout's existence on 42nd Street is that amid all the Disney and Ford Center excitement are situated two very important nonprofits.
"One is the New Victory, which is primarily for kids and offers extremely reasonable ticket prices, and then there's the Roundabout," Levy said. "We feel Roundabout's place on 42nd Street is critical to the area being what it was meant to be in terms of diversity in entertainment. This is a New Yorker's little oasis in the midst of 42nd Street and we complete the picture.
Roundabout's philosophy of attracting subscribers and delivering theatre value to them became evident during a recent tour of the construction at the Selwyn Theatre.
"It's no longer enough to do great theatre," Levy suggests. "You have to reach out and look at what the needs are for the audience and bring some added value to the theatre experience. We send out study guides, and there is always some kind of material on hand covering an educational aspect of the theatre so that people can read about it. We try and listen to our potential audience and figure out what they need to come see our theatre."
Another aspect of Roundabout's program of "added values" is a comprehensive series aimed at providing for the specific needs of various segments of the audience. Designed to accommodate several groups, there is a Roundabout series available for families who want ticket prices structured so that parents can include their children in the theatre; for singles who may appreciate a social event attached to the theatre experience; for teachers and educators who attend discussions; and even "early birds" who enjoy the novel 7 PM curtain so they can eat a late dinner or commute to the suburbs and still watch the late news.
For further information on the Roundabout Theatre call (212) 719-9393.
-- By Murdoch McBride