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E.J. Thomas Hall Boosts Broadway Series Attendance with Playhouse Square's Help

In the summer of 2015, Akron theater goers were shocked and confused by the historic E.J. Thomas Hall closing its doors.  The University of Akron was undergoing serious fiscal challenges and needed to change the operations of its theater. 

Part of saving E.J. Thomas was partnering with Playhouse Square in Cleveland to produce the annual Broadway series in Akron. 

"We were looking to flip the model and see if we could do it a little bit more economical and efficient," said University of Akron's Vice President for Finance Nathan Mortimer.

E.J. Thomas Hall [courtesy: The Akron Symphony]

The University of Akron worked with the Akron Civic to handle ticket sales at E.J. Thomas, but when it came to the hall's Broadway series it was Playhouse Square that came to the rescue.

"I knew [Playhouse Square's] credibility and that if we could reach out to Gina Vernaci and her team to bring in the Broadway series that it helps give the linchpin to other activities that we have in that building," Mortimer said.

Mortimer called Vernaci, Playhouse Square's executive producer who leads the annual Broadway series in Cleveland.  She was more than willing to lend her support.

Vernaci sprung into action by reaching out to the producers of the tours that were in E.J. Thomas' upcoming Broadway season.

"I just called them all and said, 'Hey, I don't have a horse in this race but it would be wrong for you to pull out of Akron.  If you pull out of Akron and if the Broadway season went away that wouldn't be good for the city," Vernaci said.

E.J. Thomas Plaza [courtesy: The University of Akron]

The producers and the university agreed to a deal with Playhouse Square which continues today. 

"We're almost double where we were three, four, five six years ago in attendance to the Broadway series. It's been magnificent," Mortimer said.

"We have 2,200 season ticket holders this year.  The year before we arrived it was somewhere around eight or nine hundred," Vernaci said.

E.J. Centennial Hall [courtesy: The University of Akron]

So far Vernaci is impressed with the operation.

"One of the things they do at the university that's so great is there is a lounge area for their season ticket holders before every performance.  It's a great way to go and listen to the audience and hear what they have to say," Vernaci said.

Now Mortimer sees Playhouse Square as a long-term partner.

"There's still some work to be done at E.J.  We don't view this as the end, we view this as a journey," Mortimer said.

Also Vernaci adds that there continues to be one constant.

"E.J. is a great place to see a Broadway show," she said.

Listen to the full interview:  



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