FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre opened its latest season with a classic farce, “Noises Off!” Predictably, the comedy had audiences in stitches last weekend, but that’s not the only thing making the theater company smile these days.
Over the past three seasons, attendance has risen 98% from 12,491 tickets sold in the 2016-17 season to 24,804 in the 2018-19 season.
Part of the reason for the substantial growth is simple, according to Executive Director Eloise Breikjern: more programming.
“To keep this facility going and vital, we need to keep things going year-round,” she says. “The best way of doing that is to put the best art on the stage.”
“We’re doing shows that excite crowds more,” says Artistic Director Adam Pankow.
Crowds have grown almost five times as much since 2015, two years into Breikjern’s tenure, when 5,018 tickets were sold.
It seems local theatergoers particularly want to tap their toes — the best-selling shows are musicals.
“Like it or not, audiences in Fargo-Moorhead like seeing musicals,” Pankow says.
“As I look at butts in the seats, there’s always more butts in the seats per show,” Breikjern says.
The average two-week, non-musical run will draw 500 to 700, but musicals will often draw over 1,000.
Last year’s three-weekend production of “Mamma Mia!” drew 3,500.
That doesn’t mean that every FMCT show this season will be song-and-dance numbers.
The opening weekend for “Noises Off!” drew a strong 532 attendees, and Breikjern points out that the second weekend — for this show, that means this Thursday, Friday and Saturday — tend to draw better than opening weekend.
Since last season didn’t include a comedy, it was important to start off the 2019-20 season with a laugh. Of the eight shows this season, half are musicals, two are comedies and two — “Little Women: The Musical” and the drama “The Waverly Gallery” — are regional premieres.
Last year, FMCT hosted two regional premieres in “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”
“There’s so much great theater in this town, getting an opportunity to put your stamp on something first is important,” Pankow says.
“The Waverly Gallery” is Kenneth Lonergan’s look at how a family deals with an aging mother's Alzheimer’s disease. A 2018 Broadway revival was nominated for two Tony Awards, with Elaine May winning for Best Actress.
While that title may be new, Pankow says other titles will be familiar. “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will supply seasonal chills in October, while back-to-back productions of “A Christmas Carol” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in December will serve up holiday nostalgia.
A musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, “Little Women,” in February should be a sentimental hit, says Pankow, adding that the new version should draw several generations, from grandparents to grandchildren.
Comic actor and radio personality J.J. Gordon will direct the rambunctious comedy “Flanagan’s Wake” in March.
A children's hit, “Matilda: The Musical,” closes out the regular season in May.
“This is community theater," Breikjern says. "We don’t have actors coming in from outside. They’re your friends and your neighbors, come and see them. Take a chance and see what happens.”
Pankow will soon propose next season to the theater’s board, and after that will start planning for FMCT’s 75th season.
“I anticipate it will continue to be a mix of favorites and some new things as well that audiences are eager to see,” he says.
If you go
What: FMCT's "Noises Off!"
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, Friday, Sept. 13, and Saturday, Sept. 14
Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 Fourth St. S., Fargo.
Info: Tickets range from $13 to $23; 701-235-6778