It’s been an uphill battle for student group Students in Free Enterprise and Hillsdale businessman David Horton in their quest to attract more business to The Dawn Theater, but they’re not giving up yet.
Since the Hillsdale College organization partnered with Horton this year to host concerts downtown, it has struggled with scheduling, cancellations, and low attendance.
Horton estimated that for an event at The Dawn to be profitable, SIFE would need to sell about 100 tickets. For the three SIFE events so far, average ticket sales have numbered just more than 50.
The discrepancy does not worry Horton — in fact, he said the showings are important business experience for the student entrepreneurs.
“I think SIFE’s efforts are a great entrepreneurial effort. And in any entrepreneurial effort, there are the risks that things will not turn out quite as anticipated,” Horton said.
He said this is a very normal part of the process.
“In any series of events, there is what’s known as audience development,” Horton said. “In the beginning it requires a bit of an investment of time and effort in order to develop an audience that is interested in coming to future events.”
Sophomore Nick Allen, SIFE project manager, said the shows have clearly shown an increase in audience development. He said he thought student bands were beginning to independently book The Dawn more than in the past.
“I think we’ve been able to do a lot to get students there more often, which I think long-term should really help The Dawn,” said sophomore Jonathan Slonim, who has worked with Allen on the project.
In the last couple of years, the only concert that has drawn large numbers of Hillsdale College students to The Dawn was Megan Moss and the Latest Ruckus in November, 2010, which sold over 250 tickets.
Allen said he has learned from recent efforts to plan ahead and keep in better touch with bands to prevent scheduling conflicts. For instance, the latest event, a Battle of the DJs, went south when freshman disc jockey Wyatt McDonnell had to pull out because of music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha’s initiation, leaving the “battle” to become a hastily improvised rave concert by Allen and sophomore Robert Ramsey.
Senior Kate Olson said she loves the theater itself, and attends almost every concert held there. She thinks the distance from campus, slight as it is, might deter students from coming.
At a recent concert by campus band The Cutoffs, Olson said attendance was low.
“I feel like it’s kind of dead when we go. Maybe if they had some music playing when we get there, before the real band gets started, just to up the atmosphere,” she said. “As soon as you enter the building, it feels like we’re waiting around for it to start, instead of ‘You’re at a concert! This is going to be great!’”
Olson said she thought beefing up the open bar could also improve the events.
“They didn’t have any hard liquor, and they didn’t have a great beer selection. They had three or four kinds of wine, and that was it,” she said. “I feel like even if they expand the bar just a little bit, it would be really worth it, because it’s a cool atmosphere.”
Horton and SIFE members are encouraged by the baby steps.
“I think the guys and the girls have done a great job in putting on events,” Horton said. “I’ve been very pleased … I think it’s been a win-win situation.”