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Woody Hawley Series won't return to Clay Center this year

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While other arts and entertainment series have been announced for the upcoming 2013-2014 season, the acoustic-driven Woody Hawley Series has been completely silent.

The monthly singer/songwriter showcase, which over the past eight years has featured performances from artists including Darrel Scott, Susan Werner, Paul Thorn and Tim O'Brien, is going on hiatus for the next year, at least.

"Mountain Stage" bandleader Ron Sowell, who founded the music series, said the Woody Hawley series had to go on hiatus after the Clay Center decided not to partner again with it.

"It kind of threw me for a loop," Sowell said. "I don't know if we weren't making enough money or what ... It was a real surprise to me."

Rob Rosano, the Clay Center's director of theater and sales, called the Woody Hawley Series "a great series featuring singer/songwriters," but said the Clay Center didn't feel the series served a large enough audience.

"The series had a very small, but loyal following," Rosano said. "But the audience hasn't grown over the years, like we'd hoped."

Rosano said, on average, the series sold 137 tickets to each show. The Clay Center's Walker Theater, which held the majority of the performances for Woody Hawley, seats 200.

Sowell said the Clay Center provided use of their facilities, and handled front office work like ticketing and publicity.

"We both sought out sponsors and split the costs on what ran about $5,000 to $10,000 a show," Sowell said, though he acknowledged he didn't have exact figures at hand. 

Rosano said the Clay Center is partnering with others for shows they hope will be successful. They partnered with "Mountain Stage" in the spring and are slated to host the public radio show on Sept. 29 when they record their 800th show.

The Clay Center has partnered with Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of "Les Miserables" and, for the first time in the arts center's 10 years, they're working with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra for the holiday-themed concert with all-female Irish ensemble Celtic Women.

Rosano said the Clay Center is trying to think outside the box.

"We never want people to think of the Clay Center as just a building, but to think of the Clay Center as a mission," he said.

An example, he said, was the center's recent partnership with Live on the Levee to bring the Campbell Brothers to Haddad Riverfront Park for a free show.

"The results were outstanding. I'm not sure the figures, but I'd put attendance at 2,000 folks," he said - noting that's more than double what the Woody Hawley Series brought in for a full season.

"It was well worth the investment," he said.

Rosano said the Clay Center hoped to find other creative partnerships down the road that would appeal to broader audiences and didn't rule out working with the Woody Hawley Series in some way later.

"We actually proposed a facility rental agreement," he added.

Sowell hopes the Woody Hawley Series returns to the Clay Center eventually, too. A lot of people support the shows, he said, and want them to continue, but he said he'd need to re-evaluate the series. 

"I'm going to take a year off and revamp everything," he said. "I'm going to form a board and try to get us on firm financial footing and I hope we come back bigger and better."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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