Saturday, January 31, 2009

A New Dress: Little Theatre name change aims to help build audience

By Ken Keuffel
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

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are They Serious?

So, yesterday morning I get a call from Mallorie's assistant principal. She advises that Mallorie is scheduled for ISS on Friday due to a violation of the school board's PDA policy. My brain immediately starts to smoke with visuals of Mallorie's transgression. I mean, it's got to be really bad to result in in-school suspension. I tentatively ask what Mallorie did to violate the policy. I'm not too sure I want to know.

"She was standing beside another student, and they had their arms wrapped around each other for an extended period of time."

Crickets start chirping as I attempt to reconcile my R-rated fears to her matter-of-fact response. I stifle the sudden urge to laugh.

"Were they kissing, swapping tongues or touching each others' butts?" I ask. ISS is serious; there's got to be more.

"No. They were hugging for an extended period of time."

Am I being PUNK'D? "So what constitutes an 'extended period of time'?" I ask.

"Longer than a normal hug."

Before I have time to ask for the school's definition of "normal", she goes on to tell me that because Mallorie had been previously warned for PDA violations, verbally and with a written warning in October, ISS was the next step. Apparently the previous PDA violations were for the same exact thing. Hugging.

I go from agog to irritation in .2 seconds flat. What? She received a written warning in October? Why wasn't I advised?

The AP begins peddling her bike backwards. "Well, if I didn't call you...."

"There's no if. " I interrupt, "You most certainly did not call me."

Because she cannot handle disputes or reverse peddling, she immediately asks if I want to speak with Mallorie. Upon negating that offer, she then suggests I speak with another assistant principal - the one who has actually witnessed Mallorie's violations of the PDA policy. After pleasantly greeting me, he explains he saw Mallorie and another student standing face to face (hmmm, the other AP said beside) with their arms wrapped around each other. To clarify the apparent severity of Mallorie's violation he parrots "for an extended period of time". I ask him why I didn't receive a copy of his written warning. He has no clear response. I ask for details regarding the verbal warning. Of course, because verbal warnings are not recorded, he cannot recall. It is at this point that the conversation begins a downward spiral.

I ask if the other student that Mallorie is hugging is female. He confirms. I ask if Mallorie's supposed PDA violation has been reported by anyone other than him. He states clearly that he takes offense to my question. When I repeat it, I hear him typing and he confirms he's been the sole witness.

I recall a past conversation; one in which Mallorie expressed discriminatory concern. It now seems she was right to be concerned. I am no longer irritated, I am flat out pissed. I demand he mail me copies of any and all high school records that contain Mallorie's name. He tersely confirms my address and I end the call.

I immediately email Ken who immediately emails the ACLU.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Few Questions...

I've received several emails asking these same questions. Instead of emailing back, I'll just post the answers here.

Five names you go by:
  1. Cheryl Ann
  2. Cheryl
  3. Mommy
  4. Cinberry
  5. Cinnamon
Three things you are wearing right now:
  1. Fluffy pink bathrobe
  2. Pajama bottoms
  3. Slippers
Two things you want very badly at the moment:
  1. Cade to get better
  2. Mallorie to do well on her exams
Two things you did last night:
  1. Watched House
  2. Read scripts
Two things you ate today:
  1. Breakfast burrito
  2. Peanut butter and banana sandwich
Two people you last talked to on the phone:
  1. Mikey
  2. Receptionist for Chermak & Hanson
Three things you are going to do tomorrow:
  1. Read scripts
  2. Clean the living room
  3. Read more scripts
Two of your favorite beverages:
  1. Water
  2. Coffee
Your New Year's Resolutions:
I have only one this year - Drink More Water!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reading Fool

I am always inspired to read more shows after our KLT playreading committee meetings. I was home today administering Tylenol, attempting to reduce Cade's fever. While he slept, I read. I believe this is my personal best - 4 plays in one day! Click here to read my "reviews".

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching History

I can count on one finger the Presidential Inaugurations I've watched, and I'm not talking about the ones I was forced to see during my school years. I give less than a hoot about politics, so I've absolutely no interest in watching the pomp and circumstance of the swearing in of yet another President.

For obvious reasons, this year was different; I'd been planning to watch. I was even more excited that today was a snow day for the kids, so we'd get to watch together. Cade's only 6, but I wanted him to have a memory of it, no matter how vague it might become. Mallorie was as excited as a teenager can get.

We popped popcorn and the three of us tuned in to history from the couch. All in all we did fairly well. We watched and discussed as everyone arrived. We munched as Obama was sworn in. We sat very still listening to Obama's acceptance speech. (I even cried a little.) Fifteen minutes later we were all laughing at Spongebob.

Look Ma, No Hands!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Evening at the Theatre

I worked box office last night for Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance's staged reading of The Pillowman. After balancing out all the revenue, I stayed to watch the reading.

The actor who played Katurian (whose name I cannot recall at the moment) was outstanding. Tim Brown, who played his brother Michal, never ceases to impress me. I wanted to protect him as much as Katurian does. Sean Farrell and Neil Wolfman were effective in their roles as "good cop, bad cop". The creepiest, and by far the most disturbing performances were given by Ken Ashford and Michelle Groenek.

While I'm not entirely sure I can say I liked, or even disliked, the actual play, I can admit it's extremely interesting. The Pillowman is definitely one of those shows that sticks with you long after you leave the theatre.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

An Evening At The Movies

Normally this would not have been a movie I would have been interested in seeing. I'm so glad Ken talked me into going. It was so very good. Sean Penn was phenomenal. I cried like a baby by the end.

I Received an E-card Today

Too cute!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Formula For a Good Life

One part hope
One part heart
One part the heck with it

Shake vigorously and enjoy to the fullest!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Mallorie's New Hair!

I can't remember the last time Mallorie got her hair cut. I can't even remember the last time she wanted to get her hair cut. So when she mentioned it when she got home from school, we hopped in the car and headed to Great Clips.

Mallorie looked through some of the hairstyling books and selected a style even the hairdresser didn't want to do without my permission. I vetoed that one, and we all agreed on Mallorie's second choice. She was hoping to donate her hair to Locks of Love. The hairdresser took off 14 inches, which was plenty to be able to donate.

As you can see, Mallorie loves her new style. I love it as well.Cade gave a thumbs up too, and it's hard to get any compliments from a little brother!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Kids Ring In The New Year 12 Hours Early

By: Stephanie Stilwell
WINSTON-SALEM – Kids at the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem brought in the new year early with a “Noon Year’s Eve” party that started just before 12 p.m. Wednesday.

“We thought it would be a fun thing for them to do to celebrate the New Year – have a party before we go out tonight,” parent Melissa Kinsley said.

Kids got to sing songs and listen to stories and just before noon, when there was a countdown and lots of celebrating.

“They are probably not even fully aware of how years change and things like that because these are fairly young kids here,” Eric Kerchner, the executive director of the Children's Museum, said. “But they know they're having a great time and they get to make noise.”

Some kids even made some New Year’s resolutions.

“I want to try to help people,” 7-year-old Laura Michael said.

“I have been trying to be good, but all the times but I get mad sometimes,” 5 year-old Julia Michael said.

This is the first year the Children's Museum has held a celebration on New Year’s Eve, and organizers said since it was such a success, they hope to do it again next year.
Update: We had 416 guests in the Museum for the event. It's already on our calendar for the end of this year!