RALEIGH, N.C. — How to budget and where to cut – with the lagging economy, thousands of families are asking that question.
And for many, the answer could be bringing down the curtain on the arts.
Many area theater groups say they have seen a decline in ticket sales because families are cutting back on luxuries and entertainment expenses in a time where the nation's financial forecast is uncertain and gasoline prices are rebounding from record-high numbers.
"Theater is a great, wonderful escape, but it's not a necessity," said Carolee Baker, a producer with the North Carolina Theatre, which puts on four shows each year at Raleigh Memorial Hall. "So, we're the first thing to get cut."
Baker said ticket sales are down 15 percent compared with this time last year.
"We rely heavily on season-ticket subscribers," she said. "Those are down. We rely very heavily on individual donors, and those are all down. We're seeing a lip in corporate donors as well."
Broadway Series South, another Triangle performing arts group, also blames the economy for lower ticket sales, which are down 10 to 15 percent.
And lower ticket sales also put a strain on theater budgets, which must account for the dozens of workers employed on a show, as wall as the show production, which producers say cannot be scaled back.
"For instance, "Miss Saigon" – our set is coming from California. It's the wonderful set that everyone is familiar with – the helicopter, the car," Baker said. "We can't cut back on that. We can't cut back on our musicians that we need in the pit, actors, local performers."
"So, we just struggle through and hope people see that after the first of the year that the value of the entertainment is worth putting the money on."
Baker said theater groups are looking for new ways to reach out to new subscribers and season ticket holders, such as urging them to view locally produced shows rather than traveling to see larger-scale productions.
That's what the Whitaker family, from Wilmington, did. They gave up Christmas gifts this year so they could get seats to The Nutcracker at the Progress Energy Center.
"It's too important," Nina Whitaker said. "Culture is too important."