News and Tribune

Business/Money

February 28, 2009

Derby Dinner Playhouse continues success with unique atmosphere in Clarksville

In the realm

To say Derby Dinner Playhouse is among the last of a dying breed would only be partially true.

Yes, Kentucky no longer has a dinner theatre, and the Clarksville location is one of the few in Indiana — with the next closest being in Indianapolis. But Derby Dinner co-owner and producer Bekki Jo Schneider said there’s no lapse in popularity at the entertainment center.

Derby Dinner celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and is still entertaining around 200,000 people annually with a budget of more than $5 million.

Since opening in 1974, Derby Dinner has hosted approximately 6 million people. It currently boasts a record 8,300 season ticket holders for Derby Dinner’s main stage and 2,200 subscribers to the children’s theatre.

According to Schneider, that makes Derby Dinner the fourth most successful dinner theatre in the country.

“We’re never in the dark,” Schneider said of Derby Dinner’s extensive performance schedule. She prides herself on knowing what her audience wants to see.

“Our audience trusts us a lot with shows they don’t know, because they know we will bring them good works,” she said.

And that means Schneider doesn’t have to limit her choices to only a few shows.

Schneider’s role as producer means she handles performance selection, casting, hiring staff and some directing. Lights, sets, props, costumes — Schneider oversees the whole gambit.

She began her career as an actress at age 16 and now at 62, says she has fallen in love with the business side of theatre. “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita” and “Dream Girls” are among Schneider’s favorite musicals that have been performed at Derby Dinner.



How it began

The theatre started after several businessmen decided they wanted a convention center that could host all sorts of entertainment. Windmill Dinner Theatres built and managed the facility in the early going.

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