NWU Theatre bucks national trend of declining audience attendance with sold-out shows

  • Students rehearsing Elf the Musical
    Students rehearsing Elf the Musical
  • Students rehearsing Elf the Musical
    Students rehearsing Elf the Musical

The Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre has sold out all performances of Elf the Musical marking the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that it’s reached the milestone.

“It’s incredible,” says senior Antonio Loya from Colorado who is playing Buddy The Elf. “When you’re a little kid you dream about performing for sold-out houses all the time. It is so awesome that this is the first time that I’m going to do it in my entire life.”

All 10 showings from November 30 to December 10 have been sold out.  Ryan Kathman, the performance’s director, says theater audiences have been declining nationally, but this musical is different.  “To have a show with this brand awareness, the name recognition of a beloved modern classic film, I’m fairly confident that has helped a lot with an excited populous and turnout with the popularity of seeing this show.”

A Survey of Public Participation in the Arts revealed that just 48 percent of adults reported attending at least one arts event from July 2021 to July 2022. The survey has been administered by the Census Bureau roughly every five years since 1982. The results represent a six-point drop from the most recent survey in 2017. Adults who reported seeing a musical theater production fell from about 17 percent to 10 percent during that five-year span.

The musical is based on the 2003 hit holiday film, Elf, where misfits are the largest family of all. "The movie itself had this great aesthetic that reminded people of the Rankin/Bass and stop motion of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer type of films.  This story, the characters and general vibe of this harkens back to this nostalgic feeling,” Kathman says.

Loya, who hopes to pursue acting and singing in the Chicago-area after graduation, says he’s eager to harness the unbridled joy that Buddy The Elf displays. “It’s overflowing from every pore of his body. It’s just so happy, and it’s so much fun to try and explore that and the depths of that, and then him discovering what it’s like not being happy all the time.”

Proceeds from ticket sales will help fund future performances for the department.

More than 60 students are involved in the production. “I’m very, very proud of the work we’ve done. I’m very proud of everything that’s happening. It’s been so awesome, and this is a great opportunity,” Loya says.