The 51-70 seat Lake Dillon Theatre is expanding its patron base at a rapid rate, pulling in out-of-towners, and at the same time, unable to accommodate everyone who wants to get in.
"The last five years, the Lake Dillon Theatre has seen some explosive growth," theater executive director Josh Blanchard told Dillon Town Council earlier this week. "We are a three-quarter of a million dollar operation in that tiny little building."
In those five years, both contributions and income have increased. In 2007 contributions and income were $205,753 and $471,546 respectively; the 2012 budget calls for $419,006 in contributions and $780,440 in projected income.
Blanchard attributes some of that growth to a 2010 Denver Post award, "Best Season by a Colorado Theatre Company." People told him they started driving up from the Front Range just to check out the theater after that.
It's those out-of-towners that make up a large portion of the theater's business. A recent patron survey showed 46 percent of tickets sold at the end of last summer were to Summit County residents. Nineteen percent were to folks from the Denver metro area, 29 percent were visitors to the state and 6 percent were from other parts of Colorado. Sixty-five percent said they came to Dillon specifically for the theater.
More proof the base is expanding: 74 percent of the audience surveyed were brand-new patrons, who heard about performances mainly through word of mouth, newspaper stories and email blasts.
The only problem is the existing space on Lake Dillon Drive - it's too small. Producing artistic director Christopher Alleman told town council the small space doesn't just limit potential revenue through ticket sales, but potential donors.
"When we turn away one patron, it doesn't mean we're just losing $32 for the night," Alleman said.
In summer 2010, the theater had to turn away more than 1,000 people to see its hit musical "Hair." Alleman estimates turn-aways result in about $40,000 -50,000 in lost revenue a year.
A partnership with the town to move to a larger space in La Riva Mall, or somewhere else in town, is possible, but nothing is firmed up yet. A larger venue would allow the growing theater to collect more revenue, bring in more cash and hire needed staff, Blanchard said.
The first step to all of it is to hire a development professional, who will help the theater manage its growth. The theater is requesting a one-time $20,000 donation from the Town of Dillon - one of its biggest supporters - to support that hiring. Town council will discuss the proposal at its May 1 meeting.