When talking about the Springer Opera House's 2014-15 season, Artistic Director Paul Pierce first thinks of 2009.
That year — immediately following the start of the Great Recession — was very scary, he said, as audiences contracted with their wallets.
But next season is a reflection of everything the theater says it has done right by refusing to downsize and continuing to invest in itself and its audience.
Pierce said that admission revenue for the 2013-14 season was up 14 percent, year-over-year, making the Springer the second-largest theater audience in Georgia, behind the Alliance in Atlanta.
Pierce spoke earlier this week about the new season, which is budgeted at $830,000. That is $100,000 more than last season.
"We've come out stronger than when we went in," he said, pointing to the completion of a $11.5 million capital campaign in 2009 and the opening of the McClure Children's Theatre last fall. "And our audience today is bigger and younger than 2009."
Pierce says aggressive discounts, for public servants, students and more, as well as the programming have contributed to the theater's success.
Thursday night, the Springer invited its season-ticket holders to a special announcement. At the top of the announcement, Pierce said the evening would include good news "and some surprises that will really set your hair on fire."
The new season will open in September with "Shrek The Musical."
"The great thing about 'Shrek,' everybody knows this, as soon as they hear it they know that it's one of those shows that the children experience on one level and the adults experience on a totally different level," Pierce said.
"Shrek" will run from Sept. 18-Oct. 4.
Next is "Rock Legends," the latest in an ongoing collaboration between the theater and the McGuigan brothers, which has produced "Yesterday and Today" and this season's "Rave On! The Buddy Holly Experience."
"Legends" will include selections from the classic canon of rock 'n' roll, such as Elvis and Little Richard.
"Mary Poppins," which Pierce said the theater was very lucky to get, is next on the lineup. The license to produce it came later than slotting most of the rest of the season. Pierce said that once "Poppins" was locked down, a lot of other things changed.
The Springer will work with the Las Vegas-based ZFX Flying Effects to pull off the show's signature flights of fancy.
"But that's just one aspect of it," Pierce said, pointing toward the show's cross-quadrant appeal in the Springer's Christmas-time slot.
Other seasonal highlights include "Lend Me a Tenor" in January — which Pierce calls sort of a dash of fun and laughter in the dead of winter — "The Producers" in the spring and an adaptation of the Judy Holliday comedy "Born Yesterday" at the end of April.
The Springer's studio series will open with the musical comedy "Della's Diner," followed by annual local favorite "Tuna Christmas" and a revival of "Why, Baby, Why," featuring the music of George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
After its run in Columbus, "Diner" will tour 60 American cities.
"This is what our audience wants," Pierce said. "It's so clear to me now. This is what the Springer has been doing for 143 years: We have been bringing entertainment, life and light into people's lives and reminding them that life is worth living and that Columbus is a great place to live."