High drama surrounded the Akron Civic Theatre at the start of the new millennium.
At the completion of the $22.5 million renovation and expansion project in 2002, a new operating model was put into place and worked pretty well for the first few years — but by 2007, debt from the renovation and less-than-expected revenues cast a dark shadow over The Civic.
Would the theatre survive, or would its story play out like a modern tragedy?
Searching for a new direction for the theatre, the Board of Trustees tapped Howard Parr (who’d been director of development and planning from 1998-2005) to be executive director in 2007. Parr and the Board then re-examined The Civic’s operations and, in an unexpected plot twist, worked with the city and county to successfully restructure its debt. With a new operational plan in place — along with Parr — the theatre’s overall numbers in terms of revenue from ticket sales and attendance have been steadily increasing ever since.
What’s next for the landmark theatre? And just who is the real Howard Parr? That’s what AL&L attempts to find out…
Were there early clues in your childhood that suggested theatre would one day be such a big part of your life? No early clues. I started in the entertainment business in college as a stagehand. The second concert I attended in my life was Cheap Trick, and I worked the show.
Are you a performer? (And singing in the shower does count.) Those who can, do. Those who can’t, present. I’m a confirmed presenter.
What were you doing before you joined The Civic? I was general manager of Ohio Ballet. Prior to that, I ran a 5,000-seat arena in Danville, IL, and coordinated performing arts and concert programming for Western Illinois University.
What’s your favorite theatre concession snack? Malted Milk Balls.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment as executive director? Re-connecting folks with the theatre by increasing the number and type of events. More than 80 percent of programming is community-based, and nearly every event involves some type of partnership with another organization. We’ve been able to increase the number of national attractions while maintaining a focus on the community-based stuff. I think that’s pretty cool.
What’s the biggest challenge facing The Civic right now? Dealing with maintenance issues related to an 80+ year-old building.
Who are you most proud of booking for the theatre? The October 2008 DEVO concert that featured performances by Chrissie Hynde and The Black Keys was awfully darn cool. Those three acts had never shared a stage in Akron or otherwise. I’m also pretty proud of our All Access program, which distributed over 6,500 tickets to various family-oriented events through a network of social-service organizations last year.
Who would you still like to book? Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley, Tim & Faith, Brooks and Dunn reunion tour, Sugarland.
And if you had a time machine and could book anyone? Wild Oscar, the most beloved Wurlitzer organist on the face of the planet. As best I can tell, Wild Oscar’s hands haven’t graced the keyboards of the Mighty Wurlitzer since the ’60s, but we still get folks asking if he’ll be playing before a performance.
What would surprise people about you? I’m half Italian (Sicilian). The last name generally throws folks off.
What surprises you most about Akron theatre audiences? I’m surprised by something almost every show. Todd Rundgren sells more tickets here than any other city, 4,000+ people come down to Lock 3 every Friday of the summer, 10,000+ people show up every year to see Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Nutcracker and 5,000+ show up to see Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet’s Fancy Nancy — when similar shows in markets twice our size don’t draw half of that. The list goes on and on.
If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it? Hanging with my kids or watching something on The Food Network, most likely hosted by someone named Giada or Rachel.
What’s next for The Civic? We just signed an agreement with SMG — a company based in Pennsylvania that works with more than 200 public assembly facilities worldwide. The purpose of the agreement is to increase national programming, as well as improve the efficiency of our operation. I’m working on some events now for spring 2011 that would have never played Akron without this agreement.
If someone put on a production of your life, what actor should play you — and what actor shouldn’t? The first part is easy — Jim Belushi. I think he’s great, and folks have told me I look like him. I’d never want Brad Pitt to play me. I’m not trying to be mean or anything, but I just don’t think the poor guy is up to it.