James F. Mills
Most theatres would kill to have a sellout rate of 86 percent. But at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, that’s just standard operating procedure.
“Our shows do exceptionally well,” reports Mitch Gershenfeld, the McCallum’s director of presentations and theatre operations. “We offer world-class entertainment in a very elegant venue. No other place in the Coachella Valley has the ambiance this one does.”
Opened in January 1988, the 1,127-seat theatre programs a wide variety of shows—everything from Broadway musicals and dance troupes to comedy shows and lectures. A quick glance at its January calendar shows the range of offerings—Broadway touring productions of My Fair Lady and South Pacific, violinist Joshua Bell, acrobatic troupe the Peking Acrobats, comedians Dennis Miller and Jonathan Winters, comedy troupe Catskills on Broadway, an operatic production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, Bee Gees and Who tribute bands and a doo wop concert plus a talk by actress/author Shirley MacLaine. In the following months, comedians Kathy Griffin and Lily Tomlin, singer Mandy Patinkin and the Trockadero Ballet are scheduled, among many others.
“We do the majority of our programs in high season when the majority of people are here,” says Gershenfeld, who’s been with the McCallum for 12 years. “We try to program a little bit of something for everyone.”
With a $10 million annual operating budget, the McCallum spends close to $1 million each year on educational programming. Many shows are offered free for school field trips and they also provide teacher educational packets.
“Our mission is to provide entertainment and educational opportunities for people of the Coachella Valley, Gershenfeld says. “We do a lot of work with the schools.”
Sixty percent of that $10 million operating budget comes from ticket sales, the rest through fundraising. The late President Gerald Ford was founder and member of the board of directors. “[President Ford] and Betty would come to the theatre regularly,” Gershenfeld reports. “He was a very good friend of the McCallum. His name opens the doors for many fundraising opportunities.”
Gershenfeld does caution people about buying tickets through brokers that charge substantially higher prices and service charges. “A lot of ticket brokers have similar names as ours,” he says. “People think they’re on our website and they’re not. We certainly don’t want people to think we’re charging those outrageous prices. People should just use the McCallum Theatre website or come to our box office in person.”