Published: January 30, 2009
The "Twin City" moniker is popular in Winston-Salem. It identifies a restaurant, a chorus and a minor-league hockey team.
And in September, it will figure prominently in the new name of an old theater company -- when the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem officially becomes Twin City Stage.
Norman Ussery, the Little Theatre's executive director, said he will announce the name change tonight at the Arts Council Theatre before the Little Theatre begins its run of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. The new name will coincide with Little Theatre's 75th-anniversary season.
The name change is being introduced gradually. Current patrons will be reminded of it during I Love You and two other shows this season. And when the 2009-2010 season brochure goes out in May, it will feature the new name as well, along with the original one to avoid confusion.
Ussery said last week that the Little Theatre has 1,500 subscribers and 500 "frequent" patrons.
"They know who we are and what we do, but we discovered that there are more than (these) 2,000 people living in Winston-Salem," Ussery said with a smile. "They don't know what we do. They don't know where we are.… If we're going to get a new audience, then we have to do some new things."
One of those "things" is a new name and a logo to go along with it.
Ussery said that the decision followed both extensive study -- several focus groups with different constituents were consulted -- and hiring the Russell Agency to develop a marketing and branding strategy. A $30,000 grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation underwrote the cost of hiring the agency.
The new name will help clear up confusion among people who have mistaken the Little Theatre for the Children's Theatre of Winston-Salem, Ussery said, and it will better describe what the company does, namely offer a "professional, contemporary product." The theater operates on a yearly budget of about $800,000. It offers plays, musicals, education programs, a second-stage series and collaborative efforts with other organizations.
"We truly feel that the name that has been selected is representative of the theater and everything it offers," said Carrie Collins, who chairs the theater's board.
The term "Little Theatre" won't disappear from the theater's publicity entirely. The new logo has a tagline that reads: "Put a Little Theatre in Your Life."
"It not only pays homage to the Little Theatre name but it's also a call to action to try it," Ussery said.
Theater officials say that the adoption of "Twin City Stage" is part of a larger strategy to increase awareness, increase ticket sales, attract more people to auditions and sign up more volunteers.
To get an idea of what the theater company hopes to achieve by changing its name, consider that the Arts Council Theatre has 540 seats. The Little Theatre generally performs a musical 11 times, a play seven times.
Ussery said that he would love to sell out each show and add two more performances to each run. He called such a scenario realistic because research indicates that the new name will help change audience perceptions of the Little Theatre and lead to greater ticket sales. If two performances are added to each run, the Little Theatre will realize a 15 percent gain in yearly ticket revenue on its current sales of $300,000, assuming that the performances sell out.
Danny Alvarez, a local theater fan, attends shows in New York and has served the Little Theatre as a stage manager. He said he believes that the name change is necessary, pointing out that community theater often comes with a stigma.
"You think glorified high-school productions," he said. This statement goes along with what Ussery believes, namely that several misconceptions are associated with the word "Little."
"People assume that either it's a small room with about 100 seats in it and a bunch of amateurs running around in grandma's bed sheets for costumes, or that it's really geared for children," he said.
In 2000, Alvarez started working across the street from the Arts Council Theatre, where the Little Theatre also has its offices. Until 2003 -- when some friends persuaded him to approach the Little Theatre about getting involved -- he didn't believe the company put on high-quality shows and stayed away from it. His perceptions changed dramatically when he started participating in shows.
"Yes, it is community theater, but it's as high-end community theater that you're able to produce," he said. "People need to know it's close to professional theater."
■ Ken Keuffel can be reached at 727-7337 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.