If you thought crowds were bigger than normal at River City Theatre Company’s production of Willy Wonka last month, you were right.
The six-year-old Watertown-based community theatre group shattered its previous attendance record during the two week run of the production, which is based on Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nearly 1,800 people attended six total performances, which were split between Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 20-22 at the Watertown-Mayer Performing Arts Center.
“We basically doubled our previous attendance record,” said RCTC’s Lindsey Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow. “We pretty much had audiences of 300-plus at every performance, both the evening shows and the matinees.”
Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said she believed RCTC’s previous record was somewhere in the 800 to 900 to range. She said the theatre company was expecting to have a chance to break the record, but was hoping for somewhere in the 1,000 range.
“We definitely heard that the oompa loompas stole the show,” Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said of a large group of mostly local, young students. “They were adorable, and had a lot of fun singing and dancing.”
Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said the huge attendance could probably be attributed to a number of factors. First and foremost, the cast of 50 was made up of mostly local actors, including many young students, which likely drew a large number of family and friends. The addition of scent to the show — the theater was made to smell like chocolate blueberries and other Willy Wonka themed scents -— likely attracted some attendees, and the show also included a heavy and apparently successful advertising campaign.
“It was pretty hard to live in Watertown and not hear about Willy Wonka,” Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said.
Perhaps the attendance spike shouldn’t have been totally unexpected. The theatre company often asks for suggestions for future productions, and during a production of The Wizard of Oz two years ago, an audience survey revealed that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would be a popular choice.
“Willy Wonka kept coming up over and over again,” Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said. “When we got the Minnesota Regional Arts Council grants that enabled us to do the show, we really selected it based on audience feedback. People said they wanted to see it, and they really showed their support by coming out.”
River City Theatre Company typically produces two shows every year. A larger-cast, youth-oriented production, like Willy Wonka, is held in the fall, and a smaller cast, more serious show is typically held in the winter or spring.
RCTC’s next show will be Little Women, based on the book by Louisa May Alcott, and will be held at the Watertown-Mayer Primary School in early March. Auditions for that show will be held in December.
“I definitely think there is an increased visibility and an increased number of people who want to be involved (in RCTC),” Zumbrunnen-Guetzkow said. “We’re always looking to the audience and to the community for future shows they want to see.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]