How the Cleveland Play House Scored Its Biggest Season In Years (Hint: Booze)

The cause of and solution to all of lifes problems, even theater attendance.
  • The cause of and solution to all of life's problems, even theater attendance.

The just-concluded theater season was the biggest at Cleveland Play House in more than a decade. It didn’t hurt that the lineup included a well-received musical (Ain’t Misbehavin’) and some Jane Austen (Emma) for the book-club set.

But it was the nightcap that put the Play House over the top: a production of Bill W. and Dr. Bob, a play about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The show sold more than six times the anticipated number of tickets, resulting in the venue’s biggest season finale in 20 years.

Spokeswoman Lisa Craig says the Play House scored big by reaching out to the show’s natural target audience: alcoholics. And they did it not by hanging around Kamms Corners at 2:30 a.m., but by entertaining at Stan Hywet Hall’s annual Founders Day celebration for recovered alcoholics. Director Seth Gordon took a couple of actors to last year’s event to perform scenes from the play. The rest is box-office history.

“I love that the play became so popular because of one-to-one word-of-mouth, in the same way as AA did,” says Craig.