Cathie Anderson: Ticket sales on track for Sacramento Ballet's 'Gatsby'

Published: Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 9:52 am

The Sacramento Ballet launched its 2012-13 season with softer ticket sales than it had hoped on "Romeo and Juliet," but Executive Director Gregory Smith told me that momentum is building.

The company premieres artistic director Ron Cunningham's "The Great Gatsby" on Feb. 7, and Smith said it's on track to meet ticket sales goals. But the last three days will likely decide things.

"As little as 10 years ago, the average window of purchase for most live performance was about two weeks," Smith said. "People had pretty much made up their minds about two weeks out, and they were willing to commit. In the last few years, that has dropped to 48 to 72 hours."

U.S. consumers no longer want to commit too early because something better might come along, Smith said, leading to "hair-raising" times in an arts world that once had the certainty of season ticket sales.

"Subscription sales have been on the decline everywhere except in Florida," Smith said. "Basically, that's attributed to the fact that so many retirees move south for the warmer climes and take their buying habits with them. They are prepared to make a long-term commitment as to what they're going to do on any given day."

The Sacramento Ballet saw its subscription base of just more than 1,000 dive a few years ago when it canceled its season, but it has slowly grown to 900.

Revenue neared $2.8 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, up 10 percent from a year earlier.

My colleague Leigh Grogan will write about "Gatsby" in Friday's Ticket. Production costs alone for this show will reach roughly $130,000, Smith told me. The company is bringing in Chicago music-theater veteran E. Faye Butler and jazz clarinetist Billy Novick's Boston-based band. Novick arranged music for a "Great Gatsby" performance by the Washington Ballet a few years ago.

Party at Watanabe's site

Looking for something to wear to "The Great Gatsby?" Take a look at Marina Watanabe's little black T-shirt that reads: I PARTY WITH JAY GATSBY.

Watanabe didn't create the T-shirt just for this performance. She first got the idea of creating literary T-shirts for book nerds years ago when she saw a Harry Potter tee online.

Then in October 2011, fresh out of Bella Vista High School, she thought up a phrase that will resonate with all who have gone through the literary rite of passage of reading J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye": HOLDEN CAULFIELD THINKS YOU'RE A PHONY.

Watanabe adored Caulfield's frequent use of the word "phony," so much that she wanted to memorialize him on her first shirt.

"I didn't think, starting off with one T-shirt, that it was ever going to be something that someone was ever going to buy, and it just kind of blew up," she said.

How big did g4tsby.onlineshirtstores. com blow up?

Well, Watanabe used to work as a hostess at her Dad Taka Watanabe's sushi restaurant in Fair Oaks, but as T-shirt sales approached and then passed $100,000, father and daughter realized she didn't need the job. Now Dad proudly wears her tees and hands out her business cards at his Ju Hachi restaurant in midtown and at Taka's in Fair Oaks.

"It was never really like a conscious choice, like 'Oh, I'm going to turn this into a business and make income off of it' or anything," Watanabe said. "It mainly just started out as a hobby, and I was happy when two people bought and then the orders started flowing in. I was like, 'Wow! This is turning into something that will pay for college and other stuff.' "

Watanabe, 19, is finishing up her associate's degree in English at American River College in Carmichael and plans to attend Sacramento State.

One of her proudest moments came after she gave a Holden Caulfield T-shirt to one of her literary heroes, New York Times best-selling author John Green.

The author tracked her down online and asked if he could sell it at his site, dftba.com. To date, he's sold about 2,000.

It's mostly a turnkey operation for Watanabe, who contracts with a company to make and ship the shirts as they're ordered.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson





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