Ohio’s Two Remaining Outdoor Historical Dramas Brace for a Worsening Economy

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Ohio has been home to three major outdoor historical dramas for more than a quarter century. This month, one of the three fell victim to the economy and other problems.

Facing rising debt and dwindling ticket sales, Blue Jacket parent company First Frontier Inc, filed for bankruptcy in May. The story of the Shawnee chief who led his tribe against Army forces in the 1790′s was produced for 26 years in Xenia.

Tecumseh! just opened it’s 37th season. The drama is produced by the Scioto Society Inc at the 1800-hundred seat Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheatre in Chillicothe. Marion Waggoner has been with the production off and on for 3 decades and today wears several hats including producer and artistic director. He says the loss of Blue Jacket is felt by all.

He describes Tecumseh as a love story about Native Americans and the land as white Europeans came into the area.

Waggoner says Tecumseh costs $1.2 million dollars to stage each season. That includes production, operations and administration. About 40 people work behind the scenes, and 60 are on stage. The average salary for actors is $325 per week. The top ticket price is $22.95 for adults on Friday and Saturday nights. And ticket sales cover 96 percent of costs. The rest they raise with corporate and individual sponsorships. He says the production has a limited budget for marketing and tightens the belt when necessary. He sees one possible silver lining in the current economy – evidence that people are planning vacations closer to home.

Margaret Bonamico is general manager of the oldest of Ohio’s three outdoor historical dramas, Trumpet in the Land. Their 40th season opened Friday. She has been with the company for 38 of those 40 years.

Trumpet in the Land is produced in New Philadelphia. Bonamico says it is the story of Moravian missionaries who were asked to come to Schoenbrunn during the Revolutionary War period. They were caught between American and British forces, each thinking the missionaries favored the other. Dozens of missionaries and natives including children were murdered.

Bonamico says Trumpet sells out all 1200 seats in the Schoenbrunn Amphitheatre only on occasion. A typical crowd is between 300 and 400 per night. Trumpet’s top ticket price is $15, and they are trying to hold the line on that. And she notes s Trumpet has always operated on what she calls a shoestring budget. One additional advantage for trumpet Bonamico says several members of her family are among those who volunteer their time.

She is quick to point out that Ohio’s outdoor historical dramas are unique and do not compete for audience since each is about the history of the area where the drama is performed. She says the productions might even help each other. Often, if a person sees one outdoor drama, they want to see more.

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