Committee Supports Funds For New Broadway Event

OCEAN CITY — Resort tourism officials approved funding for an interactive Broadway Juke Box production at the Performing Arts Center this May, but not before a larger discussion about promoting arts and culture in Ocean City.

At Monday’s Tourism Committee meeting, Tourism Director Donna Abbott presented a request for funding assistance for The Broadway Jukebox, a musical theater event produced by the Brown Box Theatre Project. The production will feature Brown Box performers presenting classic Broadway songs from a list selected by audience members on the evening of the event.

The troupe has a list of roughly 30 Broadway songs from which to choose and each performance is unique based on the selection of that event’s audience. Upon entering the venue, each audience member votes for their top three choices from a series of different musical theater categories and the Brown Box performers put together that night’s show on the spot with the interactive, family-friendly performance.

For the last few years, Brown Box Theatre has produced several classic plays and other performances in the resort area from its popular Shakespeare in the Park offerings to other performances at the Art League of Ocean City and beyond. Created by Ocean City local Kyler Taustin, the Brown Box Theatre’s mission is to bring high-quality cultural experiences to communities that otherwise lack access to the performing arts.

On Monday, Abbott explained to the committee Taustin was seeking an investment of $3,500 from the town for putting on The Broadway Jukebox production at the Performing Arts Center, along with additional funding to help market the event. She said the $3,500 is already included as a line item in the convention center budget and the town’s investment in the event could increase depending on how much is invested in marketing. However, she did say whatever number was decided on the marketing side could likely be recouped through state grants for the arts.

Abbott said the town already invests in Taustin and the Brown Box Theatre Company each year, but the Broadway Jukebox event goes beyond what the town already contributes. The Broadway Jukebox event is set for May 23 at the Performing Arts Center as part of its tour around the Eastern Shore and in Massachusetts, where Brown Box also produces events.

“We did increase our partnership with him to $3,000, but this is a separate event,” she said. “We can help him with the $3,500 up front and maybe we can help with the marketing. The overall sponsorship shouldn’t exceed $13,000 and a lot of that we can recoup with state grants.”

While committee members generally supported the concept, some weren’t sure the investment should come out of tourism funding.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a tourism thing,” said committee member Michael James. “It’s more of a cultural arts thing. I’m all for supporting this with in-kind services and things, but not necessarily real dollars.”

Committee member Todd Ferrante pointed out the investment is relatively minor and the event falls at a time of the year when the resort is looking to add visitors.

“It falls at a time on the cusp of our season,” he said. “Maybe it doesn’t fall directly into tourism, but indirectly it does. Maybe we can try it with this small investment and see how it goes.”

Convention Center Director Larry Noccolino pointed out the town was not on the hook for any more than $3,500 to Brown Box for producing the event.

“We’re not giving him anything over and above the $3,500,” he said. “There is a possibility it can break even. It’s a roll of the dice, but it’s a roll of the dice in cultural arts. If we’re going to move forward with arts and culture in Ocean City, we need to make some investments in events like this.”

Councilman and committee member John Gehrig said if the town was sincere in its desire to diversify its events and present more arts and culture offerings, it had to take some risks with investing in things like Brown Box.

“At some point, we need to plant some seeds,” he said. “How many times do we say look at what Rehoboth is doing? They have the demographics for it because they invest in it.”

Committee member Stephanie Meehan suggested providing the front money and determining a figure the town could be comfortable with in terms of marketing.

“What if we give them $3,500 for the show, plus maybe another $2,000 for advertising?” she said. “If we want to do it, we don’t want it to flop. I think we have to invest a little in advertising it.”

The committee voted to keep the $3,500 in the Convention Center budget for the event and directed Abbott to come up with a dollar amount for marketing that she was comfortable in recouping through state grants.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.