A man - Strand CEO Ken Wesler - stood behind a podium with a microphone and clicked through slides projected onto the wall. About 30 other people attended. They raised their hands to ask questions.
I was taking notes. Mostly, so I could share what I learned with you.
And I did learn some cold, hard facts.
The Strand will never be able to book performers who are on top of the Billboard charts. Those acts can sell out arenas, so they have no reason to play a 1,200-seat venue. Wesler has to grab artists whose popularity is waxing or waning.
That sounds kind of depressing, but not when Wesler said he strives to book the best artists in York's availability pool.
The White Rose City is considered a tertiary market. That usually means we get last dibs on shows, which hit primary markets (i.e. Philadelphia) and secondary markets (i.e. Baltimore) first. Most acts will not book two shows within a 50-mile radius, so the Strand has to compete with events in Lancaster and Harrisburg. But it can't market much outside of York County.
Right now, Wesler combs through agent submissions, trade publications and online research to select shows for which he wants to bid.
He makes one of two types of offers to an agent. A straight guarantee means the artist receives a direct payment for the show.
All deals are now sellout deals, Wesler said. This means that all show expenses have to equal 100 percent of the gross.
Gone are the days when the industry had break-even points at about 70 percent, he said.
The Strand takes 15 percent of the gross expenses for an event, which is the industry standard. Shows cost thousands of dollars and the Strand takes 100 percent of the risk. But, after artist fees and other expenses are taken away, it only makes a few thousand per show.
How does it stay in business? Service charges and concessions, Wesler said.
But didn't the Strand do away with those pesky service charges? Sort of. Wesler just makes deals with agents to drop ticket prices a few bucks, so the service fee rolls into the ticket cost without being detected by the customer.
The Strand has switched its focus from the amount charged per ticket to total tickets sold. Wesler said more people in the building equals more concession sales, potential donors and better energy at shows.
But soon Wesler will have help in deciding which shows to book. You and I will be able to tell Strand officials what we want.
Remember snail mail? That's how the Strand used to conduct market research and collect feedback from customers.
Right now, officials are testing new online audience surveys that will change how the Strand does business and books acts.
People who have Strand memberships will likely be entered into the system before it's launched. Others can sign up with an email and password.
Then, customers can select the acts they want to see and how much they are willing to pay for tickets.
Artists will be arranged according to genre. Users will have the ability to write-in names and to email their friends to vote for an act.
The Strand's staff will use the feedback to analyze its programming and show agents that there's interest in certain shows.
Wesler said that if he's lining up an act, he can send out an email blast to people who might be interested, based on other acts they've voted to bring to town. Recipients would be able to respond with a price they'd be willing to pay.
It took a while for people at the town hall to grasp the fact that they might not be able to see the exact show they want. (Yes, I agree that it would be great to see Lady Gaga or Coldplay in the Strand.)
But after the lecture, we started to realize that Wesler would be wasting his time trying to book superstars.
I, for one, would prefer that he spend his time taking suggestions and booking acts that make sense for the Strand and its audience.
PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Checking in with other art organizations
DreamWrights Youth and Family Theatre:
The venue celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Executive Director Ann Davis said that the theater's annual birthday party celebration is scheduled for Jan. 27.
"We will probably also do an insider's peek in October, and I would imagine we will tie in the 15th anniversary," Davis said.
The theater mailed out its 2012-13 lineup about three weeks ago.
This year, Davis was able to visit several children's theaters through a fellowship grant from the York County Community Foundation. She discovered that DreamWrights is one of the only theaters of its kind, in which kids comprise a majority of casts.
With a new building reserve fund and endowment fund, Davis said that the theater can continue its mission to educate through theater
At its October annual meeting, leaders decided to work on a new strategic plan and mission statement, focusing on arts education and community impact.
Financially, the organization is projected to have a positive net for 2011. Leaders plan to refinance the mortgage on the 10 N. Beaver St. building in York to free up more cash flow for additional programming. The plan is to expand adult classes and other instruction at YorkArts@CityArt, 118 W. Philadelphia St., York.
State and Cultural Alliance of York County grant money has allowed them to produce the Creative York brochure to highlight classes and cultural events.
York Little Theatre:
The theater is staging Broadway-by-way-of-York playwright Ken Ludwig's "Leading Ladies" in the new year.
Ludwig is scheduled to visit YLT Feb. 5 to see the production and host a question-and-answer session with the public, YLT public relations manager Deb Thro said. The play is set in a town based on York, she added. More details will follow in the coming weeks.
York Little Theatre struggled last winter. Leaders had a difficult time raising money and did not receive funding from the Cultural Alliance of York County. It eliminated three staff positions and restructured its board.
"Financially, we're on much better footing," Thro said of the theater's current status.
YLT recently won a contest through Fastsigns, so the Spring Garden Township theater will get new signage. The theater's 2012-13 season, which kicks off this fall, will be its 80th.
Thro said that the theater is in the process of planning the season and will probably announce the lineup in February to correspond with Ludwig's visit. The season will likely include an anniversary celebration and a series of small events to highlight different parts of its history.
The theatre has reworked its education program. It plans to offer a teen Shakespeare workshop, theater classes for special-needs children and an internship program for high school students.
The future of cinema at the Strand-Capitol:
"Film is just about dead at the Strand," CEO Ken Wesler said.
He pointed that Harrisburg's Midtown Cinema - a small art house theater - is struggling.
He said that movie studios will probably stop shipping out 35-mm film in the next few months. They will probably switch to all digital, Wesler said.
If that is the case, the Strand would have to undergo a costly technological upgrade.