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WINSTON-SALEM – The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) is ringing in the new year on a positive note, having grossed a record-breaking half-a-million dollars with its annual production of The Nutcracker, with a 22 percent increase in ticket sales and a 34 percent increase in overall revenue from last year’s production. The Nutcracker was presented Dec. 10-18, 2011.

That’s music to the ears of Chancellor John Mauceri, who said the school will net more than $200,000 in scholarships from the proceeds. “The extraordinary success of this year’s Nutcracker is a tribute to the students, faculty and staff of UNCSA, as well as our long-term partnership with the people of Winston-Salem and the greater Piedmont Triad,” Mauceri said. “All of us at UNCSA who are so completely dedicated to our students must always remember that, unlike most other schools, this scholarship money has been raised from the direct educational outcomes of these students who are, in effect, taking their final exams when they perform.”

 In 2011, UNCSA saw revenues of $1.5 million from The Nutcracker and the all-school production of Oklahoma! in April. “UNCSA raised over $650,000 toward scholarships and educational outcomes during 2011 alone,” Mauceri said.

Both Oklahoma! and The Nutcracker were presented at UNCSA’s Roger L. Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem, and the productions provided collateral benefits for nearby businesses, said Jason Thiel, president of the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership. “The Nutcracker is a wonderful event for our community and creates real positive economic impact for our downtown businesses,” he said.

News of the record-breaking revenues is also satisfying to Katharine Laidlaw, who oversaw both Oklahoma! and Nutcracker as UNCSA’s executive producer. “I don’t know of any other performing arts school that’s able to generate more than $500,000 in revenue from a single, limited-run production,” she said. “It’s remarkable.”

Mauceri said the campus community salutes Laidlaw. “With little money to market this production, she found creative ways to reach out to an even greater audience, organize a better performance schedule and achieve unprecedented financial success in an environment in which most performing organizations have seen audiences diminish and overall revenues shrink,” he said.

More than 15,000 people attended the Nutcracker in 2011, thanks to a broad-based marketing plan that included direct mail, creative email blasts, outreach to media, and partnering in new ways with local organizations and merchants.

“We made a concerted effort to ensure that if you were living in Winston-Salem in the fall of 2011, you were going to hear about Nutcracker and from multiple sources,” Laidlaw said.

Laidlaw partnered with EverWondr, a Greensboro company whose Pursuit of Happiness website links many organizations to create the area’s first events calendar driven by social media. She also obtained promotional grants from Visit Winston-Salem and from WFDD radio. Pitches to local media included a weather feature contrasting The Nutcracker’s fake snow with the Piedmont’s balmy mid-December temperatures. Downtown eateries including Camino Bakery, Sweet Potatoes, Mozelle’s and Wolfie’s rewarded customers with “NutsBucks,” which provided discounts on Nutcracker tickets.

Merchant donations also helped reduce production costs. Burke Street Pizza and Dioli’s fed the 200-member cast and crew. Hanesbrands donated t-shirts for souvenir sales conducted by students in the Performance Arts Management Program.  Dewey’s Bakery donated free beverages and provided wholesale bakery items for concessions run by the contemporary dancers to fund their showcase performance in New York. The Parent Support Organization, a volunteer group aimed at providing support for UNCSA’s high school program, ran The Nutcracker Boutique, selling Christmas ornaments and holiday trinkets.

“We had such tremendous support for our merchandising efforts, which significantly increased our overall revenue,” Laidlaw said.

Thoughtful planning helped boost revenues as well. The Nutcracker run was scheduled later than in past years, providing for an extra week of advance ticket sales after Thanksgiving. Fewer shows reduced production expenses and resulted in near-capacity audiences throughout the run of 10 performances.

Laidlaw is careful to add, however, that all the planning and promotion mean nothing if you can’t deliver a high-quality product or show. “And that is the easy part of my job,” she said. “Our students are going to deliver a performance of professional quality every single time. Promoting their work is very gratifying.”

She added: “There was a genuine joy in the production this year. The show looked beautiful. The cast and the orchestra radiated such positive energy, and the crew brought all the production elements together seamlessly. We had the same high-caliber artistry as in years past, but audiences responded to the joy.”

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the first state-supported, residential school of its kind in the nation. Established as the North Carolina School of the Arts by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, UNCSA opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. More than 1,100 students from high school through graduate school train for careers in the arts in five professional schools: Dance, Design and Production (including a Visual Arts Program), Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. UNCSA is the state’s only public arts conservatory, dedicated entirely to the professional training of talented students in the performing, visual and moving image arts. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.