Peoria’s Only Equity Theatre Gears Up For Business
The Apollo Professional Theatre Company was officially started January 1, but a public announcement didn’t come until March 15, according to Managing Artistic Director Andrew Driscoll. “In December I submitted a proposal to the board of directors of the Apollo Fine Arts & Entertainment Centre, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, for Peoria’s first resident Equity theatre company,” he said. “They accepted, and I’ve been working on laying the foundation for this venture ever since.”
He said the founding vision for the company was to provide the greater Peoria area with a theatre experience not previously available on a consistent basis—small cast shows that focus on the material, performed by first-rate, professional Equity actors primarily from New York City. In addition, Driscoll said the Apollo Professional Theatre Company will offer several cabaret concerts featuring celebrity singers, as well as a number of film festivals. “The vision will remain the same for as long as this theatre is in existence. We will grow, but the focus will always be providing Peoria what’s current in theatre with Equity talent.
Driscoll said the company will provide a variety of entertainment formats, but it’s main thrust will be theatre. “In our 2002-2003 Inaugural Season we’ll present four musicals and three plays, each running a minimum of four weeks. Additionally, we’ll present celebrity cabaret performances, film festivals, and the multimedia slide presentation ‘Discover Peoria.’ When the space is available, we’ll also book the theatre and/or green room for meetings and other private functions.”
Since the company’s formation, Driscoll has been the only employee, but that changed in August. “We added a box office manager, business manager, and technical director. For the most part, each individual show will employ four actors, a stage manager, sound operator, light board operator, set/light designer, and a house manager,” he said.
In a city full of community theatres, the “professional” part of the company’s name differentiates the Apollo, Driscoll said. “The Apollo Professional Theatre will present shows performed by actors who are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the professional stage actor’s union. We will be one of only three theatres in Illinois outside of Chicago to be Equity. In addition, the shows we will present have small casts and sets; the Peoria Civic Center presents large-scale productions.”
He said in the beginning, direct mail was the initial focus of the company’s marketing plan. “We sent more than 7,500 brochures for our 2002-2003 inaugural season to our arts targeted lists. Newspapers, Web sites, magazines, and radio were the next wave of our advertising. In August we began to focus on the opening show specifically by adding television advertising.”
Because his company doesn’t draw its actors from the community, Driscoll must travel to bigger cities to search for performers. “We will audition in New York City two times a year and Chicago once a year looking for actors for the season. In our first New York audition in June, we received pictures and resumes from more than 1,000 Equity actors. We were able to audition 250 of these performers on that trip. My 10 years as a professional actor in New York City provided me with contacts in every facet of this business. For the most part, I know who I want for directors, so I have approached them. For the cabaret series, I have begun approaching the performers’ booking agents and am working out the details.”
Like many start-up businesses, Driscoll said raising capital is one of his toughest jobs. “The raising of funds for the Apollo Professional Theatre has certainly been and continues to be the most challenging aspect. While I have received nothing but positive responses from potential contributors and sponsors as to the validity of the requests, we are still raising funds so the shows can be presented at the highest level. It isn’t good enough for me to just present shows using Equity performers. I want to bring in actors with Broadway experience. It isn’t good enough to just do shows. I want to do the best shows.
“To be able to do this and keep the ticket prices affordable for everyone, we need contributors and sponsors. If this were a for-profit theatre, I would be forced to charge $45 or more for tickets to provide this level of performance. That’s just too much money. I want to present a product that seamlessly combines art and entertainment into one. Great art has to be accessible to everyone, or really, what is the point? We’re still seeking sponsors and contributors for the 2002-2003 season, and I’ll continue to seek until I raise the needed funds,” he said.
Driscoll said the most rewarding aspect of the business is yet to come. “That will be when people actually get to enjoy the shows. I can talk about how wonderful it’s going to be until I am blue in the face, but nothing will compare to the greater Peoria area seeing what you can only get in the big cities.” IBI