For over 40 years Sight & Sound Theatres has been entertaining and inspiring theatregoers with their larger than life Bible based live theatrical productions.
Attracting over a million people this past year to their theatre locations in Lancaster PA, and Branson MO, Sight & Sound Theatres has announced that they are expanding from the big stage to the big screen by taking previously recorded versions of their productions into select movie theatres across the country.
The name of the film that will be shown at the theatres, as well as theatre locations will be announced at a later date.
MD Theatre Guide spoke by phone with Matt Neff, CEO of Sight & Sound Theatres about the expansion.
MD Theatre Guide: So what brought the idea about to expand your productions into movie theatres?
Matt Neff: Well, I would say a couple of things really. We exist to bring the Bible to life. We asked ourselves, what are the most effective ways we can do that? Are there other mediums that we can explore? A number of years ago we started to film the live stage productions and then release those as DVD’s. Bringing the recorded versions to movie theatres feels like a very natural extension as a way to reach more people with the message of the Lord. We’ve been watching this concept for a couple of years now where movie theatre audiences see live performances, sporting events, and other special one time showings. We looked at it and thought, hey, there’s an opportunity here for us on two fronts. One, there’s an opportunity for many people in different parts of the country to experience the production who couldn’t make it to our locations in PA and MO. So its great in that way to get a taste of what Sight & Sound has to offer, even though its not the full live experience, it’s still an interesting way to interact with us. But it’s also a way, think of it from a marketing standpoint, a way to have more exposure to who we are and what we do in different markets in the country where we don’t have a presence or would not have advertised before. It’s sort of two pieces to the puzzle.
MDTG: You have four new positions at Sight & Sound. Please talk about these four new positions and why it is important for a successful expansion.
MN: Our focus has been mainly accelerating new productions; accelerating the ability to produce more shows more rapidly. We feel like we need to be better positioned, better structured for growth and the ability to expand this mission beyond what it looks like today. To do that we really felt the need for three things to increase for us as we grew the organization. One, we felt like we had to create greater leadership capacity, meaning the ability for us individually and collectively as a team, to lead more broadly, lead more effectively, so capacity meaning the time, the energy to invest in. The second thing was increased clarity, ensuring that we are clear and aligned with the leadership team around our mission, our values, our goals and that those we lead are clear as well. And then the third, was agility. We felt that we needed to grow more agile as the leadership team of the organisation and be able to quickly adapt and deploy and see the mission expand more.
The big shift for us was a number of years ago we had two separate leadership teams. One was the executive team, and I was responsible to lead that team and then we also had what we called the operational leadership team. There were nine of us on that team that was more operationally focused on directors, on all the different areas of the organization and I also led that team. But what we found is, as we moved towards thinking about growing was there was some redundancy within the two teams. It led to some lack of clarity at times and overlapped between the two areas. So we looked and thought, you know what, we should move back to having one team that’s a smaller team that can better focus on whats important. And so the three of us executives are on that team and then we created four vice president roles that essentially lead every area of the company in some form or fashion and report up to the seven of us who are now the new leadership team. This change immediately impacts our capacity to be able to focus on this new team and allows me to lead one team instead of two. So that gives me more focus, brings a greater clarity, and we believe its already leading to greater agility to make decisions, act, move forward. So those were the big drivers to us.
MDTG: When did the new leadership structure begin and where did you find the staff to fill the positions?
MN: We went live with this structure the last week of October. We rolled it out to the company and it went into effect immediately. The four vice presidents are all people that have already been working in our organization in director level roles.
The four new vice president positions are:
■ Maria-José Tennison – Vice President of Brand and Production
■ Susan Howard – Vice President of Human Resources
■ Cynthia Carson – Vice President of Branson Operations
■ Ken Stefanow – Vice President of Lancaster Operations
MDTG: Are audiences ready for Sight and Sound productions across the country?
MN: We certainly think so. I mean, we see it now, even with the live shows. In any given month we see audience members traveling from many different states and countries around the world, which just blows our minds! And in any given year we see people from all fifty states represented. Its hard for me to imagine and believe it, that people are travelling and coming from all over to see the show, so we know the audience is there but we know that not everyone can come. So that was the real driver years ago behind capturing the shows on film and say, well, not everybody can come but if we can go to them, if we can meet them where they at, lets try that, why wouldn’t we try that. We get that it’s a different experience, you know, you watching it on a screen, different to being there in person, but its still a great extension of the experience in any format.
MDTG: Is there talk of expanding into other types of entertainment besides the film? What about a live touring production?
MN: We have explored touring in particular. That’s one avenue we’ve checked out pretty extensively and at this point we’ve decided it’s not quite right for us. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t at some point, but we really felt the need to focus on the large scale nature and scope of our production which is kind of the hallmark of who we are. So its not something to write off, but at this point we not pursuing that actively. We are starting to have a conversation on a lot of ways to tell stories and we happen to do that on stage primarily and then capturing that on video. We would also perhaps explore an original film production or original television production or some avenue.
MDTG: Considering the popularity of Netflix, would you consider maybe having one of your productions on Netflix or similar video streaming service? What about an additional live theatre location?
MN: Yes, I think that is something we going to be looking at too. We’ve done a little bit of streaming. We’ve done a little bit of international DVD distribution. Just small scale stuff to kind of get an idea of, get our foot in the water a little. It’s just a matter of do we continue to push the existing platform or do we continue to explore other potential platforms. I’m sure we will be considering that in the future. As far as more live theatre locations, its certainly a major investment and an incredible amount of work to form and create a new team, but something we need to remain open to for sure.
MDTG: I am really excited and happy for Sight & Sound’s restructure and expansion. Now if only the movie theatres could serve those delicious almonds that you make fresh at Sight & Sound.
MN: That’s a great idea! We should package it with the bill. Thank you, we are really excited to see what the Lord has in store and how we can more effectively communicate the mission. That is why we’re here. We just look for every opportunity to expand that.