"The theater is at risk for selling enough tickets to make the cost of the show," Wolford said.
In December, the theater lost about $14,600 on a Crystal Gayle concert that cost about $34,000.
Those kinds of losses are what drove the theater into debt four years ago, Wolford said.
The last time the theater lost money was on the children's show "Pocahontas" in February. The theater lost about $1,000 on the show, which cost about $8,000, she said.
The theater can still book acts such as Pam Tillis and Diamond Rio through rentals rather than direct contracts, as was done on March 22, when the two acts performed two shows, officials said.
"It won't make any difference to us," said Lane Wilson, who represents Tillis for the William Morris Agency. The agency wouldn't book the theater any less frequently.
The agency just needs to find promoters willing to book the shows at the theater, such as Carlos Larraz with National Artists Corp., Wilson said.
Larraz, who booked Tillis and Diamond Rio at the theater, said the theater can still book big acts through rentals.
"The theater never would have been able to bring those two in" if it wasn't a rental, Wolford said. They would have cost more than $60,000, she said.
From now on, theater officials will only sign performers whose artist fees are less than $15,000, Wolford said. Theater officials could run into trouble breaking even with more expensive acts.
For an act costing $15,000 with $10,000 more in advertising, lighting, sound and crew costs, the theater would have to price tickets at an average of $31.25 to break even, Wolford said. The theater sells an average of 800 to 900 tickets per show.
When the theater books a rental act, it generates between $1,500 and $7,000 in revenue, she said.
The theater used to do eight to 10 non-rental shows a year, Wolford said. About four of the theater's 65 planned performances this year are non-rental shows, including three children's shows and possibly a silent movie in August with piano accompaniment.
Wolford said she is negotiating to get national touring companies of "Grease" or "Carousel." "Bye, Bye Birdie" already is booked for 1998.
Rental acts this year include the comedian Gallagher, Luther Allison during the Western Maryland Blues Fest, local ballet recitals, an opera singer, the Miss Maryland Pageant, "The Nutcracker," Escapade Theatre's "Wizard of Oz," and several graduations.
The Maryland Theatre isn't the only local venue for nationally known acts.
J.D.A. Productions Inc., of Hagerstown, has shows planned at North Hagerstown High School, Martinsburg High School and the Apollo Civic Theatre in Martinsburg, W.Va., said Deanie Wilburn, secretary and treasurer.
Mark Chesnutt performed at North High on April 25 and fellow country performers Sammy Kershaw and Lee Ann Womack will hold concerts there in June and July, Wilburn said.
J.D.A. is no longer working with the Maryland Theatre after a dispute concerning rental and technical assistance charges for an Alsatia Club show and ticket sales information for two Roy Clark shows last summer.