By Patrick Kernan, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE — The F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts is one of the top 100 theaters in the world, according to one measuring system.
Pollstar, the main trade publication for the concert touring industry, says the Wilkes-Barre theater is ranked at number 93 out of theaters worldwide based on ticket sales. The Kirby Center is also number 75 on a list of only U.S. theaters.
The ranking only takes into account theater venues, meaning stadiums and other venues are not ranked on the list.
Will Beekman, executive director of the Kirby, explains the growth comes after a conscious effort from the center to grow that started around the time he took on the executive director position about five years ago.
“We decided we were going to be more aggressive, bringing in bigger names and more of them,” Beekman said.
And the strategy seems to be working: this is the highest the Kirby Center has ever been ranked on the year-end list in the theater’s 33-year history in downtown Wilkes-Barre, and it’s the first time it’s ever cracked the top 100.
Climbing the ladder
The Kirby Center initially broke into Pollstar’s Top-200 in 2015, getting the ranking of 114, and has been steadily climbing since then, arriving at number 109 in 2016 and number 104 in 2017.
The leap into the top-100 comes after a record breaking year for the Kirby Center, selling more than 85,000 tickets this year — 13,000 more than last year and nearly 33,000 more than just three years ago.
Beekman said the growth comes not only from an increased number of tickets sold at each show, but also from an increased number of shows. According to him, the Kirby Center is averaging around 150 shows per year, up from only about 50 shows annually just a few years ago.
But this isn’t the only good news Beekman said the Kirby Center has gotten lately. After an economic impact study performed by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, it was found that Kirby Center patrons spend an average of $10 million a year in Wilkes-Barre.
Most of that money is likely coming from attendees heading to shops before the show and bars and restaurants after the show lets out.
Beekman said these two pieces of news cement the importance of the Kirby Center in the Wilkes-Barre area.
“We’re obviously a community theater, and now we’ve become a community theater in more ways than one,” he said.