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Joliet council urges Rialto Square Theatre officials to book more diverse shows

After debate the night before at a public meeting, Joliet officials took time June 20 to discuss the Rialto Square Theatre’s progress in fulfilling its obligation to the city.

In late 2016, the council agreed to extend $250,000 in two installments to the theatre contingent on its ability to book or have hosted 30 performances by July 1.

“I’ve received a revised list of shows and performances—which actually if now you look at the revised list, now it has additional shows—I want to let the council know, it looks like they’ve met the 30 shows, so we will be issuing the second installment for the $250,000,” Interim City Manager Marty Shanahan said.

The council took time to seek information from Rialto officials to examine the way the theatre accomplished this feat.

When considering what shows to bring to town, Rialto officials took a look at a number of factors, including Facebook presence, popularity, routing and past ticket sales.

Several council members wanted Rialto officials to seek greater diversity in the shows they bring to town and cited concerns for the theatre relying on programming geared toward children.

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk questioned the extent to which the theatre is looking to draw in acts to appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Are there acts coming that will appeal?” he asked. “It’s fine that you have acts for kindergarten kids and for 60-year-olds, but what about everyone in between?”

Rialto Square Theatre executive director Valerie Devine tried to explain.

“A lot also has to do with the fact that we are still very heavily based in a co-promote situation, which means the Rialto due to being financially, fiscally responsible is not taking a lot of risks on a show,” she said. “When we find an artist, we need to be able to find someone to partner with to make that show happen. A lot of times thus far it has been VenuWorks burdening the financial risk of a show, but sometimes it’s another promoter coming to us.”

The Rialto didn’t get into the current financial situation it is in overnight, Devine said.

“We are working in the direction,” she said. “Because we are in a no-risk situation, we have to find people that are willing to partner with us. Each and every show that we do builds our credibility back in the market with the agents that they worked with for a very long time, or that I’ve worked with for a very long time, and gets us back on their radar screen again to remember that when particular artists are going out that they let us know and that we’re able to jump on some of those acts.”

Councilwoman Jan Quillman questioned why the theatre isn’t performing like the Waukegan theatre with all the different shows and events they’re set to host this summer.

“How do they do it?” she asked. “Why can’t the Rialto?”

Rialto Board Chairman Robert Filotto questioned what Quillman knew about the Waukegan theatre’s financial situation.

Quillman suggested that Rialto officials look into it and said this baffles her.

“The area around [the Waukegan theatre] is very depressed, but they get people from all over,” she said.

Shanahan urged Rialto officials to go beyond the partnerships it typically utilizes to bring in more shows.

Councilman John Gerl agreed.

“We want to see a diverse group of entertainment, but we want to make sure that there’s acts being booked to bring people to our downtown, enjoy our fabulous city and our restaurants and that sort of thing,” he said.

Devine said the Rialto is bringing on board some shows, which have not yet been announced that appeal to diverse groups, and the theatre’s ability to draw in different acts is progressing little by little with an emphasis on demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

“We really have to look at the artist and see what their pull is,” she said. “I know the children shows were a topic of discussion yesterday, and at a $6 ticket, it’s amazing that their break-even is right around 100 tickets with the sponsorship that we have. They’re great revenue generators for us at a time when generating revenue with zero risk is very important.”

Devine stressed that Rialto officials do not intend to limit the theatre and its performance.

“We realize the more successful things that we can book, the better it is for everybody,” she said.


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