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Executive Director, Gillioz Theatre
Executive Director, Gillioz Theatre

2016 Entertainment Outlook: Geoff Steele

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Geoff Steele is leading a resurgence at the Gillioz Theatre and working to put Springfield on the entertainment map nationally.

2016 Projection “Springfield is poised to see a shift in national perception of this market.”

SBJ: What type of entertainment is leading the local industry right now? Where are Springfieldians spending their entertainment dollars?
Geoff Steele: It’s diversifying. Comedy is doing really well the last 15 months or so. “The Mystery Hour” just received a regional Emmy. That’s big and that attendance has gone way up, but also the comedian circuit. We’re getting A-line comedians now. Some of the strongest offerings we’ve had this year have been comedy: Kathy Griffin, Craig Ferguson, Lisa Lampanelli.

SBJ: What types do you see emerging in 2016?
Steele: I anticipate more special events and festivals being the emerging thing. The patron experience is really what’s happening culturally across the country, and Springfield is mirroring that. The Route 66 Festival is the perfect example of that. It was an incredibly well conceived and well received festival that’s moved into a two- or three-day event now. It draws outside tourism.

SBJ: How is Springfield perceived in the entertainment industry?
Steele: What we’re known for nationally is being very slow to buy. We’re a fairly lethargic market. On paper, we should be a really solid B market. Whenever agents and promoters are looking at Springfield on paper – a quarter of a million people, 40,000 college students – you would expect that we would be able to support more music than we do. That’s part of my mission to help develop that market and change the perception. Having come out of Nashville, I have a pretty clear understanding. We’re an anomaly on the national circuit. We have an enormously strong potential. We’re four hours out from St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, [Okla.,] and Little Rock, [Ark.,], so that’s a hub of a multisprocketed wheel ideal for touring. A four-hour drive is about perfect for what you want on a tour bus. Our mission is to develop more of a relationship with these agents and promoters to bring higher levels of talent in.

SBJ: How are 2015 ticket sales shaping up at the Gillioz Theatre? What’s the 2016 forecast?
Steele: We’re probably up 16-18 percent. We’re not going to see that kind of growth again. We just turned a ship a little bit. We’ve been well received with the changes we’ve made in the past year. But I think it’ll be a single digit growth.

SBJ: How are mobile apps and streaming media impacting people getting entertainment in social settings?
Steele: It’s not a concern to me. I think we had the same concern when we started looking at social media. We’re still social creatures by definition. Those things actually connected us more than we had before. Here, we’ll say, “Put your phone down and experience what’s happening.” It’s not uncommon to see someone looking at their phone whenever the artist is standing 12 feet in front of them.

There’s still something about going to that place, particularly in a historic setting like this. The bottom line is that patron experience. There is still something magical about sitting in a large room with a large number of people and experiencing something at the same time.

SBJ: What big-name acts might we see come through town in 2016? What’s the trick to landing them?
Steele: You never want to jinx anything if it’s not done, so I can’t say anything that’s not there yet. But over the past 15 months we’ve had Elvis Costello, Bela Fleck and Pat Benatar. I’ve got some classic rock. Kansas is coming in their 40th anniversary.

There are things happening at the O’Reilly [Family Event] Center that have been really good. Bryan Adams was there, Michael McDonald was there. JQH Arena has country sewn up for first quarter with Jason Aldean and Brad Paisley.

Going back to the hub, that routing thing, there are a number of players working aggressively to put Springfield on the map for being a consideration for those acts. The hard thing is it’s booking a little differently than it has, and no one I’ve talked to nationally can figure out why that is. Some of it may be election cycle. It’s difficult to get the word out, frankly, when it’s so polluted on that. It begins a real question of what you want to do and how much you want to be out, and then there’s the danger of politicizing any statements by artists. Probably don’t want to do a Dixie Chicks thing about now. Things like that come into play.

SBJ: You’ve worked in the industry about 30 years. What are some tips for young entertainers to get into the business?
Steele: Focus on the art and not on the sizzle of social media. You have to feed that beast. There’s a lot of material out there, but there’s not a lot of substance behind that material. And those who have the real staying power, it comes down to that ability to actually create art that resonates with people whenever you get in front of them. It’s one thing to watch it on a phone and it’s another thing sharing an experience with someone. It still comes down to artistic integrity. It always will.

SBJ: And on the event management side?
Steele: With the emergent technologies and the patron experience specialties, it’s the Wild West. That’s the language I use with my staff. You have to be willing to embrace all the tools. The curve is moving so fast. So figure out what’s trending and what’s trendy – and those are two different things. There are things that are going to matter to us in a few years and there are things that are not going to matter to us in 18 months. So what do you focus your energy on? You have to be paying attention to what’s trending.

SBJ: What is the economic impact of entertainment?
Steele: According to Americans for the Arts, for every person who buys a ticket, another $24.60 is spent by the patron to make that experience happen. That could be a meal, parking, even down to the babysitter. There is an economic impact. It supports us and it supports the businesses around us.


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