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Originally published: 2013-03-15 10:04:22
Last modified: 2013-03-19 18:28:06

SAHA to request $20,000 to open 'Horn'

by Anna Oakes

Southern Appalachian Historical Association Chairwoman Michelle Ligon this week shed more light on the financial challenges facing the outdoor drama "Horn in the West" in 2013.

SAHA plans to request $20,000 from the town of Boone to assist with opening "Horn in the West" this year. "Horn" suffered from more rained-out shows than usual last season and also did not receive a $5,000 grant from the N.C. Arts Council it has received in the past, Ligon noted, and the organization needs $20,000 in the bank to meet payroll before revenue from tickets, concessions and gift shop sales begins flowing in.

"With the rainy season we had last year, coupled with the reality that we will not receive the $5,000 grant from the N.C. Arts Council this June, the financial need is very real," Ligon said.

SAHA is a nonprofit organization that produces "Horn in the West" at a town-owned amphitheater off of Horn in the West Drive in Boone. The Boone Town Council discussed the situation at a council retreat earlier this week.

Councilman Rennie Brantz, a SAHA board member, described the circumstances as "a crisis point," citing decreased revenue last season, debt and facilities in need of repair. Brantz wondered aloud if it might be wise for "Horn" to take a season off and reorganize, and other council members agreed.

"The SAHA board does not wish to take a year off from the production," Ligon said. "The show has major significance in the history of this genre of American theatre."

Premiering in 1952, "Horn in the West" has been produced for 61 consecutive years.

The outdoor drama grew out of the county's centennial celebration as town and county resident's demonstration of pride in their local heritage, Ligon said.

"The generation of citizens who started this 'outdoor pageant' had grown up hearing tales of their family heritage, the days of Civil War and the earlier days of the fight for freedom from British rule," Ligon said. "Some was fact, some was embellished perhaps, but they were on to something. They knew this heritage needed to be held up for all to see."

In 2008, Appalachian State University's hospitality and tourism management program conducted a study and a survey of "Horn in the West," concluding that per-person spending while in the High Country area was $134. Using that figure for the 10,772 visitors to "Horn" in 2012, the direct economic impact to the Boone area was $1.4 million, noted Ligon.

"It is the original tourist attraction in the town of Boone," she said.

The production is the third oldest outdoor drama in the nation. "The Lost Colony" on North Carolina's coast is the oldest and is supported by state funding. "Unto These Hills" in Cherokee comes second, managed by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

"These outdoor dramas and their respective historical associations have had very difficult times in the past, too," said Ligon.

Ligon said the "Horn in the West" director was made aware of the drama's financial challenges prior to holding auditions earlier this year. SAHA has moved the season back by two weeks to open June 28 and extended the season one week later into August, a time when attendance tends to be up. The result is a six-day reduction in the season and a 12 percent reduction in salary costs, she said. SAHA has also reduced the production budget and number of complimentary passes it gives out.

SAHA plans to present its request to the Boone Town Council during a public comment period next week.

"SAHA knows that the town has many opportunities to fund a variety of projects or needs which serve the community," Ligon said. "SAHA also knows that the town of Boone has for more than 60 years enjoyed the unique position of being the home of a historic N.C. outdoor drama, and we realize it would like to preserve that long-held reputation."