The Black Box | E.J. Thomas is Improving and Taking Akron With It
by Josy Jones
Did you get to see “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” in concert at E.J. Thomas Hall on November 11? The Akron Symphony Orchestra (ASO) played the score from the movie while the audience watched the film on a high-definition, 40-foot screen. Maybe you’re not a huge Harry Potter fan, but that’s not important. How cool would it be to have the symphony play the entire score from any of your favorite movies while you watched the movie on a REALLY big screen? Can you imagine watching “Kill Bill” with a LIVE symphony playing the music in the background? It’s cool. Bottom line. And it happened at E.J. Thomas Hall.
This is just one of many examples of how E.J. Thomas’ new partnerships have helped to revitalize its programming. The Akron Civic Theatre, Cleveland’s Playhouse Square, and the University of Akron are working together to create this growth for Akron. Two years ago, Akron University’s Nathan Mortimer, Vice President for Finance and Administration/CFO, and his colleagues discovered E.J. Thomas was spending $2.2 million more than it generated. In merely two years, the initiatives of these partnered organizations was able to close that gap by roughly $1.2 million.
Cleveland’s Playhouse Square programs Broadway shows for the Broadway in Akron series, bringing high-quality shows to the Akron market. Of course, the University students and staff still use the space for events. For the rest of the season, the Civic and E.J. Thomas work together to provide shows in Akron that the community wants.
Instead of competing with one another, the Civic and E.J. Thomas are working to strengthen the community together. Organization leaders believe working together allows them to increase the likelihood they can get a show into town. Increased activity in the market will make Akron a better place for both venues, as well as the community.
“From our perspective, it was like what can we do to make sure the market doesn’t lose this activity,” says Howard Parr, executive director of the Civic. The simple answer was work together. Now, Parr says, the Civic is running the box office for E.J. Thomas, allowing them to use the Civic’s promoter connections and utilize the schedules of both venues to place a show “wherever it makes sense and increase the likelihood the show’s going to happen.”
Yes, you can thank their partnership for ASO’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” coming to E.J. Thomas. Parr’s relationship with the promoter started the conversation about the show, but the Civic couldn’t find an opening on the schedule. ASO needed a few consecutive days for rehearsal and a show, which the Civic did not have available. Without its partnership with E.J., the market may have lost the opportunity.
This scenario isn’t always case. E.J. and the Civic are very different venues, so sometimes a show makes more sense to be in one space or another. Nevertheless, all of their decisions are for the betterment of the community.
It’s important to both organizations to make sure their partnership is serving the community. There is a strong emphasis on client services, including how patrons are treated, as well as trying to bring shows that the community wants to see. Although Mortimer acknowledges that there are so many things to be proud of, he is most proud of E.J.’s staff and the very “open, client-oriented service and culture.” Parr remembers a sold out show with an audience of mostly 14- to 18-year-olds, where he caught a glimpse of E.J. Thomas’ potential to be “a place for everybody.”
The E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall was built in 1973 through the work of the University and a few dedicated community leaders. Now, E.J Thomas continues to grow, serve its community and grow the market through the work of the University and a few dedicated community organizations. E.J. Thomas serves as a great example of how much the Akron community cares about its growth and development and its dedication to keeping Akron an awesome, and sometimes weird, place to live.
Keep up with shows at E.J. Thomas and the Akron Civic Theatre: