By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
The 2017-18 season for Effingham Performance Center has a special meaning for EPC Executive Director Rich Jorn.
In his time with the entertainment center, this season tops out on the amount of entertainment and educational series coming to Effingham.
“It’s the most shows we’ve had at the EPC and the number keeps increasing each year. When I took over as executive director during the summer of 2013, we had 27 shows that year. But now we’re at 50,” Jorn said as he sat in the Rosebud Theater several days ago.
The shows coming to EPC demonstrate the drawing power of the theater on Outer Belt West. The big-name lineup kicks off with the music of Gary Allan on Sept. 28. Other easily-recognized acts include REO Speedwagon and the Oak Ridge Boys, both at the EPC respectively on Nov. 16 and Nov. 27.
The Guess Who comes to the EPC on Dec. 9. Grand Funk Railroad rocks the theater on Jan. 27 and The Temptations offer some soul and R&B on Feb. 1. Bill Anderson offers his country music on Feb. 16. The Kentucky Headhunters with Confederate Railroad honky-tonk the town on March 9, and Chubby Checker will be twisting on May 11.
Just that musical bill of high-energy talent is impressive for an entertainment venue located in a small Midwestern town like Effingham, but the EPC staff works hard at getting shows on stage on a regular basis. That is why the EPC lineup includes unique musical acts like The United State Air Force Band on Oct. 22 (this is a free concert); Trans-Siberian Experience, Dec. 15; Branson on the Road-Christmas Style, Nov. 18; Dailey & Vincent with Bluegrass, March 3; as well as tribute shows like Metallica and the Laser Spectacular for the Music of Pink Floyd and Legends of Rock, respectively on Feb. 23 and April 20. There are also talented niche music acts like Texas Tenors, March 23, and Red Hot Chili Pipers, March 24.
Jorn is excited about an act not necessarily quickly recognized, but still full of a lot of talent that comes to the EPC on Feb. 10.
“The music act I’m most excited about is Postmodern Jukebox. It doesn’t have much name recognition compared to the others, but it takes contemporary songs from Justin Timberlake, Arrowsmith and Beyonce and creates a jazzy club style. I’m telling people they’ll love this,” Jorn said.
As in past years, EPC features local talent in partnership with 3 Chicks & a Stage with the Christmas Carol shows on Dec. 2 & 3; The Scott Wattles Christmas Show is on Dec. 16; and the Memorial Day Tribute to veterans on May 28.
There is also a Sing-A-Long-A Grease on April 14 with the Three Chicks having the audience sing along to the music of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies. Lend Me a Tenor, a comedy, is also offered through Three Chicks on Sept. 8, 9 and 10.
There will also be a series of educational events, starting with the Bull Prevention Show on Sept. 29. The Hillbilly Scientist Show takes the stage with laughter on Nov. 14. Four Score and Seven Years Ago teaches the price of freedom on Feb. 12 and Charlotte’s Web is brought to life on Feb. 15.
Getting that talent and much more, ranging from dog acts to hillbilly science, requires a lot of thinking ahead, Jorn said.
“We start on booking the next season when we go to Arts Midwest in Columbus, Ohio, at the end of August. There’s also the International Entertainment Buyers Association at Nashville each year. These are showcases of fantastic acts and amazing speakers,” Jorn said.
The people with the theaters and other venues mix with the agents and see the performers. Jorn remembered seeing Foghat playing the “Twist” for Chubby Checker a few years ago at the IEBA. Eventually, the talk turns to negotiating prices. An intangible is a big-name group’s tour schedule.
“For some of these acts, it takes a long time to come through for us,” Jorn said. “Scotty McCreery is an act we’ve been working on for four years. There’s some of them like that you try to sign up and can’t, so you put them on the backburner for the future.”
Availability is not just the only factor. There is the ticket price, Facebook likes, and other factors that Jorn and his staff put into a spreadsheet for making the final decision on booking different acts for a given season.
Jorn said entertainment venues like the EPC must have a good reputation on three factors with performers: the check was good, the food was great and the house crew knew what they were doing.
“We get A’s on all of them. We get compliments on our crew and staff and the catering. And our checks have always been good,” Jorn said with a wide smile.
That would not be possible if not for the support of the Effingham area community, Jorn said, which includes private donors and support from city government through tourism funds generated from hotel/motel taxes. He recognizes that every time he takes the stage to introduce an act or event at EPC.
“I always start every performance with ‘Thank you to the city of Effingham.’” Jorn said. “So many communities our size would kill to get a place like this and many of them can’t even afford to get a shovel in the ground to start building the theater. For a town of 13,000, this facility is quite unique.”
When it comes to choosing the acts for each season, Jorn makes sure the lineup reflects what the community wants.
“We have a suggestion box here and we welcome suggestions on Facebook, too. The goal is to have something for everybody, whether it’s rock, country or family outings,” he said.
How he got started in the entertainment business is the classic boy-meets-theater story. Jorn started as a class clown and then to avoid suspensions, he got involved in school theater productions. He learned how to build sets and then in college he gained a degree.
Now, he and his staff and crew members are ready to put on another year of entertainment for the community.
Just call 217-540-2788 for tickets or for arranging a membership to support the EPC.