Fathom Events bringing terrific works to movie houses

Most die-hard theater lovers seem to know that there’s an outfit called Fathom Events that regularly brings some of the stage’s best works to local movie houses. We’re talking Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, London’s National Theatre – the sort of stuff we never get to see here.

Strange thing is, the one- or two-night showings rarely seem to get good audiences. Some blame this on a lack of local interest. Many blame it on bad promotion.

“I would have gone (to ‘She Stoops to Conquer’) if I’d known about it,” one woman said. “If they can’t afford ads, couldn’t they at least put up banners in the movie theaters? How long can they last with such poor turnout?”

Considering that I often see some terrific Fathom productions with an audience of about five people, I thought the woman’s question was worth pursuing.

Public relations spokeswoman Michelle Portillo explained, from her Colorado office, that the company is limited in how it can advertise. It does run trailers but can’t put up banners because the film studios would be unhappy (that’s why Fathom has performances only during the week, when “regular” movies don’t do so well). It offers a variety of events (boxing, concerts, opera) so that some of the profit-making shows offset those with limited interest.

“But if we weren’t making money (on the plays in Vegas) we wouldn’t be doing them,” Portillo said bluntly.

Fathom began its international high-definition broadcasts in 2002.

“We’re willing to be patient,” she added. “It takes time to establish an audience, to get the word out that this is an event, not a regular movie. Most of our business, I think, is word of mouth, and we expect that to grow.”

The presentations include backstage interviews, Q&As with star performers and authors and a camera point of view that puts you in the middle of the auditorium – until the production starts. That’s when you get to see exceptional actors up close.

“I saw ‘Wicked’ recently with my children,” Portillo said, “and we were stuck in the mezzanine. The stage seemed tiny. Here, the actor’s faces are (magnified) and you’re able to enjoy everything about the performance.”

You have to give Fathom credit for its mission. The company, in addition to its international bookings, plays programs in 400 to 700 theaters across the country, from New York City to a small town in New Mexico. Seems to me they help do away with the notion that tiny cities must be culturally deprived.

With average first-run movie tickets hovering around $10 to $12, I find Fathom a bargain at about $17 (the shows play at several local movie houses). Here’s a look at what’s coming ’round the corner:

■ Monday: “Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary” (from Royal Albert Hall).

■ Wednesday: “Phantom” sequel “Love Never Dies” (from Australia’s Reagent Theatre).

■ June 6-7: A new version of “Frankenstein” (London’s National Theatre).

■ June 14: Christopher Plummer in “The Tempest” (Stratford Shakespeare Festival).

Check fathomevents.com for more information.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com or you can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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