KEARNEY — The Merryman Performing Arts Center has grown from a local stage to a venue that encompasses a large part of central Nebraska.
“We are on our way to more than 600 season ticket holders from 48 communities in south central Nebraska,” said Denise Christensen, executive director of the center. “What makes us different is that we have a huge audience from a large swath of central Nebraska. We’ve become a regional performing arts center. That’s a huge achievement for the Merryman. Our vision has become a reality.”
Christensen noted that audience members come from a radius of 100 miles to attend programs at the Merryman.
“I couldn’t believe it but we have someone from Brady, Neb., who has a season membership,” she said. “Brady is about 78 miles away, near North Platte. And we have people from Sutherland, too.”
That town in Lincoln County is about 125 miles from Kearney.
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An expanded audience allows Christensen to book larger shows that appeal to greater audiences.
“Our focus is a lot on entertainment,” she said. “We try to appeal to a broad audience.”
Tickets to the 2019-20 performance season at the Merryman Performing Arts Center now are on sale. With a large number of season ticket holders — almost 600 at a venue that holds 760 audience members — Christensen said the best way to get tickets is to subscribe as a season member.
The five shows are:
- Sept. 25 — The Midtown Men — The stars from the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys” return with music by the The Beatles, The Beach Boys, the best of Motown and Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons
- Nov. 8 — American Pop featuring The Box Tops and the Buckinghams — These Top 40 artists will perform their hits like “The Letter,” “Cry Like a Baby,” “Choo Choo Train,” “Kind of a Drag,” and “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song”
- March 6 — All Hands on Deck — A live nine-piece big band orchestra performs a salute to Bob Hope’s 1942 USO tour with 45 songs, classic commercials and a patriotic finish
- March 24 — The Lettermen — A concert of nonstop harmony including the group’s hits, “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “When I Fall in Love”
- April 21 — Classic Nashville Live! — Jason Petty and Katie Deal celebrate the songs of Nashville including tunes by Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Season tickets are $145-$205.
In addition to its role as a regional arts center, the Merryman also functions for the residents of Kearney.
“It’s the mission of the Merryman to be a community performing arts center,” Christensen said. “We want to be a place where people gather to learn and to participate in lectures and special events. That’s very, very important for us to do that for the community.”
She cites the recent Chautauqua events as an example. Humanities Nebraska organized the event in Kearney but many of the cultural institutions in town joined forces to make Chautauqua successful.
As for defining success, Christensen looks at the size of the audience but also includes other elements.
“Attendance is one factor,” she said. “How well it was received by the audience is another, along with how the artist engaged the audience. Did they connect? Was there an exchange of what’s happening in a live performance? That’s something you can’t get anywhere else. Movies are great, but a live performance — with the energy in the room and the connection to the artist — that’s what creates memories and really makes it engaging.”
Those memories often last for years.
“Long after the show is over, people come up and say, ‘That was a great performance. I loved it. I love the music. The songs brought back so many memories,’” Christensen said.