CAPITOL IDEA: Sara Bareilles shown at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester in 2022. (Courtesy Venue)
As the New Year’s confetti gets swept away, club and theater owners are already looking at ways to expand potential rental and event business during the 2024 holiday season.
In 2023, The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, tallied a 10 to 15 percent increase in added business by actively engaging with the community and booking private events during the holidays, according to general manager Bruce Wheeler.
For venue owners and operators interested in supplementing their concert business revenue there are some best practices that can make a difference. Start by examining the venue footprint and identify spaces that can lend themselves to a variety of event sizes and needs.
“We’ll do everything from a smaller, couple of dozen people in our smaller portion of the venue called Garcias, which is in the club adjacent to our lobby, all the way to a full buy out of the entire theater,” said Wheeler.
The Capitol Theatre, owned by Peter Shapiro, opened in 1926 and has a capacity of 1,800. The venue can rent space for film, TV, commercial shoots; corporate meetings and events; virtual events and live streams; benefit concerts and fundraising; weddings, birthdays, bar/bat mitzvahs and private concerts.
Cultivating repeat private business is crucial to the success model. A 13-year-old can only have one bar or bat mitzvah, but it’s about putting on a great event that generates interest and referrals from attendees leading to additional business opportunities with long-term gains.
“Having repeat business is a part of the success at the Cap, when you have clients that return on a perennial basis,” Wheeler said. “But it also comes down to the room itself, the history of it and people wanting to be part of that with their special event.”
Venue operators need to watch their inventory. It’s important to have close communication with the event sales team to minimize the potential impact on the concert schedule around contracted shows and holds.
Emily Schmalholz, the head of special events at The Capitol Theatre, partners with charities like Big Brothers, Big Sisters and many organizations for events, parties and meetings.
“I’m sure that my head of special events would love to have the entire month of December available to her, but really it comes down to the nights where we don’t have concerts programmed,” Wheeler explained. “So, even with that challenge she and her team do an amazing job at bringing people in.”
Active prospecting and networking can help. Most corporate event planners start thinking about booking their holiday events during the summer.
So, what happens when you have more interest than square footage? It’s not a surprise that most planners will want to host events over prime weekend nights when the venue is already booked. Moving events to less busy weeknights is part of the solution.
“It all comes down to finding that slot for them on a day or night that’s going to work and then hopefully make it the best event any of them have ever come to,” Wheeler added.
In November/December, The Capitol Theatre hosted ArtsWestchester Gala honoring New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Cousins and Westchester County Executive George Latimer; a bar mitzvah with the Goo Goo Dolls; a corporate holiday party with a private performance by Zach Bryan; and a holiday networking event for Westchester County Tourism & Film among others.
Since a major renovation in 2012, the space has hosted private events and meetings for Netflix, Spotify, Sony, Amazon and many more. It’s been recognized as the Best Event Space and Music Venue in Westchester (Westchester Magazine) and as a Top 200 Theatre Venue by Pollstar. Working with experienced event planners is crucial to having a positive outcome.
“More and more people on the corporate level and event level are looking for ways to make these events special and if the budget is there, No. 1, hire an event planner, please,” Wheeler said. “Even though it can cost thousands of dollars, you will probably save that money not only financially, but in frustration.”
Wheeler recommends hosting an open house for event planners in the spring and summer. “You want people to see the venue and be able to picture their event inside your space,” he said.
The appeal of booking a music venue is the ability to provide turnkey production. The Capitol Theatre has showcased legends from The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan & David Bowie to more recent icons Snoop Dogg, Kacey Musgraves, Kevin Hart and Amy Schumer.
Holding events at an existing music venue is turnkey and can save money for clients who don’t need to source production needs including experienced stagehands, lighting, sound or constructing a stage.
“That’s what the Cap is most coveted for with that type of event,” Wheeler explained. “If you want a DJ, you can go to a ballroom somewhere, but if you want a stage that has audio, lighting and the production aspects are already there and in place, that’s a big reason we get some of the events that we do.”