In the local film market, the competition among art house cinemas is getting steeper, with more offerings for local filmgoers. Criterion Cinemas opened a five-screen art house theater in New Haven. In Hartford, the Crown Theatres chain purchased the lease on Cinema City, rechristened the property Art @ Cinema City, and continues to show art house titles. In West Hartford, plans for the development of Blue Back Square proceed apace (litigation attempts by Westfarms mall notwithstanding), and included in the plan is a four-screen art house theater.
Last year was a tough one for the live music business, and Connecticut was no exception.
Although concert industry ticket-sales revenue jumped 12 percent in 2004 to $2.8 billion, ever-higher ticket prices - and not higher attendance - accounted for much of the increase, according to the trade publication Pollstar.
In fact, attendance was down substantially at the ctnow.com Meadows Music Theater, which hosted 204,933 people at 17 concerts last year, including stops by the Dave Matthews Band, blink-182 and Fleetwood Mac. The Hartford amphitheater drew more than 259,000 people to 16 events in 2003.
The Meadows is owned by Jim Koplik Presents, the Connecticut arm of entertainment conglomerate Clear Channel Entertainment, which also owns the careerbuilder.com Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. The Oakdale last year drew 282,145 people to 42 concerts, including shows by Norah Jones and The Roots, and 80 family and theater events. That's less than the Oakdale's 2003 total of 331,000 at 122 events, but more than the 260,000 people who attended productions there in 2002.
The Hartford Civic Center hosted eight concerts last year, including shows by Van Halen and Prince. The number of shows was the same as in 2003, but attendance last year fell to 75,000 from more than 93,600 the previous year.
Mohegan Sun casino didn't provide figures for 2003, but the arena there hosted 121 events in 2004 - not all of which were concerts - with attendance of 605,000. Shows there, which are booked by Jim Koplik Presents, included Kid Rock, Dolly Parton, R.E.M. and three performances by Tim McGraw.
It's tough to predict what 2005 will bring - tour itineraries for the summer haven't been finalized. There are big acts planning tours, including U2, but which, if any, of those bands will stop in Connecticut is up in the air.
A mix of positive and worrying news faces Hartford Symphony Executive Director Charlie Owens.
At a time when the symphony's endowment has reached $9.1 million and single-ticket sales are the highest they've ever been (helped by the enormous popularity of "The Lord of the Rings" concerts last September), there's news casting a shadow on the symphony's short-term prognosis.
"There's never been a more difficult budget to balance in the last 10 years," Owens says.
Although subscription sales are essentially the same as the year before, the HSO has added to its operating costs this year with an increase in guaranteed services (the number of concerts, educational programs, rehearsals, etc.) and the growth of the size of its "core" orchestra.
Because the HSO is a part-time orchestra and not salaried, Owens explains that players are paid a per-service fee. Those at the "core" level are guaranteed the most services each season. In accordance with the orchestra's contract signed three years ago, the number of services increased from 170 to 195, and the size of the core surged from 23 to 33 players.
To cover the anticipated shortfall, the HSO has taken the step of setting aside $250,000 of the $1 million bequeathed by the estate of Louise Wheelock Willson. The money will eventually be paid back into the symphony's endowment.
Although in recent years the HSO has expanded and been on the road with concerts at the University of Connecticut's Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts and its summer home, Simsbury's Talcott Mountain, Owens likens the effort to build its audience base as an incremental process, measured by slow and steady steps rather than bounding leaps.
For Hartford's other flagship institution, Connecticut Opera, the glass is half full, not half empty.