All Stars Project, Inc.
Box Office Management System
Frank used Iron Speed Designer to create "The Castillo Box Office System" in a few weeks!

Box Office Management System

All Stars Project, Inc.
New York, NY USA

Established in 1981, The All Stars Project, Inc. is an award-winning non-profit organization dedicated to promoting human development through an innovative performance- and development-based model. The organization creates and delivers outside-of-school, educational and performing arts activities for tens of thousands of poor and minority young people. It also sponsors community and experimental theatre, develops leadership training and pursues volunteer initiatives that build and strengthen communities.

The organization runs a number of innovative programs. For example, the 20 year old All Stars Talent Show Network engages tens of thousands of young people from New York City, Newark, NJ, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia and Los Angeles each year. Another program, The Castillo Theatre, is an independently funded, postmodern political theatre that attracts audiences from all over the New York metropolitan area — and visitors from throughout the country and the world. The Castillo Theatre stages productions that explore the most controversial questions of the day in ways that are playfully entertaining rather than ideologically instructive, and has produced over 90 stage productions in its two decades of existence. Still another program is the Joseph A. Forgione Development School for Youth. Founded in 1997, this program provides leadership-training to young people between the ages of 16 and 21.

The All Stars Project does all this without the benefit of government subsidies, relying on the dedication of hundreds of skilled volunteers, and the financial support of over 15,000 donors. The organization maintains an extensive website at where you can learn more about their work.

But last fall, the All Stars Project volunteer box office manager, Kate Henselmans, had a problem. The box office management system was on its last legs. A critical system that managed everything from patron history to ticket inventories was no longer adequate. Like so many legacy systems, the existing system had been patched together over several years by a number of staffers and volunteers, and was running atop a dated flat-file database engine. Understandably, it had some serious performance, reliability, and integrity problems. No one had ever had the time to consider issues such as database design or data integrity. With a new major expansion in the works, Kate knew something had to be done.

Kate turned to her friend, Frank Donovan, for help. Frank, an experienced and capable database programmer, had informally supported The All Stars Project for years. Now Kate needed him to find a way to modernize the system, fix it quickly, and complete the task within the typical constraints of a non-profit setting.

The Frank Donovan story

Given the urgency of the situation, the team didn't really have time to establish or measure formal metrics on the project. Frank said, "When you deal with desperation, the only metric is 'Anything has got to be better than this!'"

To accommodate some unique requirements, Frank was able to customize and extend the code created with Iron Speed Designer. "The extensions we made were modest, but necessary," Frank explains. "We did modify some of the application source code, and did not rely entirely on the standard application. Once in a while, I had to get my hands dirty and make the necessary changes." Some of these extensions involved SQL scripts and optimized stored procedures relating to legacy data.

Sue Davies, Manager of Foundation Relations, played a key role in the development of the system. Frank explains, "Sue took over the enterprise reporting tasks on the project and has done a spectacular job. I couldn't have done it without her." In addition to the contributions from Kate and Sue, Frank's project received broad-based support from the All Stars community. "It was great to work on a project where so many people helped with so many different aspects of the effort," he says.

Within just a few months of part-time work, the team was able to complete a new system design and implementation with Iron Speed Designer. "None of us had ever heard of Iron Speed Designer when we launched the project. We learned how to fit in with Iron Speed Designer as we went along. Iron Speed convinced me that Iron Speed Designer would do the job", Frank says. "And I'm glad they did."

Web apps in every-day roles

Today, box office customer service representatives and theater management use the system to run everything the old system used to do and more. The application provides complete and reliable box office and patron management support for the theater. It tracks patrons with regard to plays attended, types of memberships, contributions and special theater packages. It also provides a way to gather, manage, and report on all manner of box office information, including performances, seating inventory, pricing, and sales.

Additionally, because the new application is now on a solid relational database foundation, it works well with analytical tools such as Business Objects' Crystal Reports and Microsoft's SQL Server Reporting Services. "These facilities greatly enhance its enterprise value both for the present application and looking forward to future," says Frank.

The Castillo Box Office system is available to its users via local intranet, and provides remote access via the internet. Plus, the new system is much faster, more capable, and more reliable than the legacy system it replaced. All told, the application utilizes 27 different database tables, and sports 20 HTML pages.

What's next?

Now that The All Star Project has the system it needs in New York, it is exploring how it could be leveraged at other community theaters. Frank explains, "Since the system was designed with the community theater in mind, it could be easily adapted for almost any community theater anywhere in the world. Iron Speed Designer's ability to easily modify and add and subtract features is key to redeploying the application in another setting.

"We're exploring how we can make the application we built available to any community theater that wants it. Since it was developed as an ASP.Net application, it can be run on an ISP supporting this technology with virtually no investment in new software and hardware for a monthly cost in the two figure range."

About the developer

Frank Donovan is a former CPA for two of the largest accounting firms in the world, and has also held executive posts for such companies as JC Penney and FIAT. With 25 years of database development work under his belt, Frank is an experienced database developer. While he was very familiar with how to construct and organize tables, write and optimize SQL queries, etc, this was his first ASP.NET development project.

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