A lot happens behind the scenes at Andria Theatre, and we’re not talking about each play.

Preparing for an upcoming season takes months, if not more, of planning and strategizing.

“We like to think a year in advance, but we’d like to have the shows figured out for the next two years,” said David Christman, the theater’s artistic director.

Christman, who is also a director and actor at the community theater, explained that a lot of thought and careful consideration goes into planning a season.

For example, the theater’s staff and board of directors looks at the area’s demographics to figure out what kind of shows will fit. In addition, the theater has sent out surveys and polled the community to find out what types of productions they would be interested in.

Ann Hermes, Andria’s executive director, said they also look at what can be performed on the stage as it does have its limitation.

“Basically, we have to look at two things,” Christman chimed in. “Will it sell and do we have what it takes to pull it off?”

The answer for each of the productions in the upcoming season was yes, they said.

This season features music, mystery, comedy and fantasy. These are the upcoming productions chosen for the 2019-20 season:

  • “Hello, Dolly!” – Oct. 3-6 and 10-13

  • “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” – Dec. 5-8 and 12-15

  • Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” – Jan. 31-Feb.2 and Feb. 7-9

  • “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” – March 5-8 and 12-15

  • “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” – April 16-19 and 23-26

A student production, “A Year with Frog and Toad Kids,” will take place Nov. 8-10.

Taking risks

Over the years, ideas have been brought to the table that have proposed risks. But when the time seemed right, those chances were taken and the risks paid off, said Hermes.

The theater used to only do four productions per year, and then it became five. Now, there can be as many as eight productions in a season – five main shows and three Student Theatre Project shows.

“That’s a big deal,” said Hermes. “The growth has come from the interest and from us being planful.”

Christman added that it really is about the public’s support for community theater.

“We are so grateful for the support,” he said.

During the 2016-17 season, there were 39 performances with about 9,000 in attendance. For the 2017-18 season, 48 performances drew almost 11,750 people. During last season, there were 55 show performances and 16,000 people.

On average, each performance in the 2016-17 season sold 233 tickets. That number rose to 244 the next year, and 291 last year.

One thing to keep in mind, Christman noted, was the theater still had its old seats in the 2016-17 season. At that time, the theater could house 450 guests. With new seats – they came from the movie theater in Alexandria when it was renovated – it can house 365 guests.

Christman said the risks they’ve taken have definitely paid off as new attendance has grown by about 20 percent.

Choosing the shows

When trying to decide on what shows to produce, Hermes said Christman will develop a short list of potential shows. He looks at different criteria to determine which ones would be the best fit, and finding a balance is key.

For example, if one show is top heavy with female roles, the next show should provide enough roles for men. All the productions can’t be musicals. A variety of musicals, dramas, light-hearted comedies as well as family-friendly productions need to be a part of the mix.

While polling patrons, Hermes said it was fascinating to learn that people really do enjoy musicals and comedies, although they’ll attend a drama or murder mystery.

“We really try hard to listen to what the people want,” she said.

When it comes to choosing a show, Christman looks at availability. Sometimes they really want to do a certain production, for example “Sound of Music,” but it isn’t available or the rights to the show are not attainable.

Andria Theatre pays anywhere from $5,000-$8,000 for the rights and permission to do a show. In the theater world, it’s called buying the royalties. Besides purchasing royalties, the theater also has to purchase the tracks – or music – for shows.

The season schedule is announced at the theater’s celebration to honor its volunteers. “It’s a big reveal and we have lots of fun,” said Hermes.

Speaking of volunteers, she believes the Andria Theatre has the largest number of volunteer hours in any non-profit organization.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” she said.

The Disney show, “Moulan,” had a cast of 63, as well as numerous crew members, and they volunteered about 10,000 hours just for that one show.

For this season’s first show, “Hello, Dolly!,”about 25 cast members will spend six intensive weeks volunteering their time preparing for the show, Christman added.

A peek at the season

  • “Hello, Dolly!” will be directed by Sharon Thalmann. Hermes called it a classic that is funny and just a good wholesome musical. Most people know the story and the music and it’s a familiar show.

  • “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” is a great classic piece of literature, Chrisman said. It is family-friendly, has a lot of great lessons and is a wonderful Christmas story. “We’ve got the versatility of actors in this community who can pull it off,” he said. “It’s going to be great.”

  • Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is a newer adaption that has only been out about a year, said Hermes. The entire production will take place on a train and will include plenty of humor.

  • “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” is an all-student production that will draw people of all ages. Christman said the theater teamed up with the Scandinavian Gift Shop for decorations and costumes.

  • “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” is considered by Christman to be the highlight of the year. He said it is exactly like the movie and showcases some masterful music.

  • As for the Student Theatre Project, two shows have been chosen: “Grease” and “Aladdin.”

“We really have a packed year,” said Christman. “It’s exciting. We are looking forward to it and it’s going to be great.”

For more information or to share thoughts on possible productions, contact Hermes or Christman at 320-762-8300 or visit the Andria Theatre website at www.andriatheatre.org.