By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Reporter
CHEROKEE, N.C. – “Alice in Wonderland” will not be returning to the Mountainside Theatre in 2023.
The production was set to begin its second show run this April, but the Cherokee Historical Association (CHA) decided to pull the plug at the end of February.
“It really just comes down to the spring is a really difficult time to get things done,” said John Tissue, executive director of CHA.
“We weren’t seeing the ticket sales that we needed to really feel comfortable that it was going to go. We spent a lot of time kind of grooming some schools to be the bulk of the audience for this show. Swain County was really good about it, and Macon was interested, but we weren’t generating the numbers there that I felt that we should go ahead and spend the money to do the full production this year.”
Tissue said the total cost of the production was set to be about $60,000. He said that these decisions are not easy, but he wanted to be responsible with CHA’s money. Tissue said that the cancellation didn’t have to do with the quality of show nor with Havoc Movement, the production company that crafted this version of “Alice in Wonderland”. The contract provided Havoc Movement with a stipend for cancellation of the show as well.
“They’re a great company and they spent a lot of time developing this for us, and they’ve put the work in. So, we wanted to make sure they get that. And they don’t want to produce for an empty house, either. We don’t know that it would’ve been empty. But presales are usually a pretty good indicator,” said Tissue.
He continued by saying that another facet of the decision was to allow more time for CHA to settle in with a new marketing company that is working with the Tribal operations. That company is Americaneagle.com, Inc.
“The Tribe’s got a new marketing company coming in and they weren’t really up to speed on our stuff yet. It just made more sense to punt that until next year and not eat the expense of doing a big production that was not going to be well visited.”
Havoc Movement had just made casting announcements a week prior to hearing of the cancellation. This is the same production company that is responsible for “Dracula” that has been hosted at the Mountainside Theatre the last two years as well. Darby Guinn, producer of “Alice”, said that it is disappointing to have to walk away from a show they love.
“Getting to build ‘Alice’ from the ground up last year was such an awesome experience, so we’re certainly sad that it wasn’t in the cards this time around. Cherokee has a real gem in Mountainside Theatre, and we hope folks still take the time to see the new things that are happening there,” said Guinn.
According to CHA, nothing will replace “Alice in Wonderland” for this spring season, but they are planning to fill that space in 2024. Tissue said that they are maintaining their focus on shows that can be made kid-friendly, and will recruit local schools much more moving forward.
“’Alice’ is currently on the table [for next year]. But we’ve already thought about doing something else there. Anything from a Cherokee-centric kind of a thing or a Cherokee interpretation of a story…we’re trying to stay close to what the North Carolina curriculum is and what kids are reading between fourth and seventh grade, or third to eighth grade. So that they have some tie to the curriculum in North Carolina,” said Tissue.
He said that the plan is to still bring back “Dracula” for this Fall. He said that he is excited to see how the new marketing company can help them find the audience to take these shows to the next level. Tissue said that he believes in the quality of the shows and is expecting better numbers this year.
“It lost a little bit last year, the year before it was in the black. Again, we were in the interim with the new marketing company. I think with the right push it’ll be fine. Plus, it gets great reviews. Actually, ‘Alice’ got great reviews as well. It’s not the show. We just need to get it out to people.”
Tissue said that, at the end of the day, this was a business decision and simply part of operating in this field.
“It was pure cost-benefit at this point. We weren’t seeing the presales. I don’t want people to think this is some disaster. At this point right now, we need to play it safe there and make sure we don’t spend the money poorly.”