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Ruth Eckerd Hall hopes funny business pays off

Ruth Eckerd Hall is hoping that George Burns and Bill Cosby will help bring in the crowds _ and the money _ next season. The two comedians are among the 20 acts mentioned in a partial preview of the Clearwater hall's 1991-1992 schedule.

The hall's board of directors also is hoping that the list of coming attractions _ and the chance to buy tickets before the general public _ will interest people enough to become new or upgraded members of Ruth Eckerd Hall.

The goal is at least 1,500 new or upgraded memberships by the end of the membership drive, which begins in August and ends Sept. 7. The board has agreed to match any new money raised up to a total of $50,000. Memberships are offered in many categories, from $25 to $500,000.

"The board has issued this challenge as a demonstration of its commitment to the future of Ruth Eckerd Hall and in recognition of our accomplishments," said Elissa O. Getto, executive director. "Our 10,000 members have always been the key to our success. We know our future lies in broadening this base of support even further."

At the end of July, the Act I brochure will be mailed to members, who will be able to buy tickets for the various acts in August. Tickets will not go on sale to the general public until Sept. 7.

In addition to Burns, other performers who will appear for the first time at Ruth Eckerd are actor Mandy Patinkin, songwriter Paul Anka, actor/dancer Gregory Hines, '60s folk group the Kingston Trio, and the Broadway musical M. Butterfly.

Holly Duncan, director of development, said the hall will finish this year in the black after several years of financial difficulty.

In October 1989 the hall initiated a $9.5-million fund-raising campaign to help retire its debt. This new membership drive is an offshoot of that campaign. It also changed its strategy in booking performers, switching to a program that featured acts with wide audience appeal.

Here is a list of performers scheduled at Ruth Eckerd Hall next season. For more information, call the hall at 791-7060 from Pinellas or 854-1538 from Hillsborough.

Oct. 31: M. Butterfly

Nov. 7-9: Kirov Ballet

Nov. 15: Mandy Patinkin

Nov. 19: Kingston Trio

Nov. 26: Paul Anka

Nov. 29: George Burns

Dec. 3: Give 'em Hell, Harry

Dec. 6: Gregory Hines

Dec. 7-8: Canadian Brass Christmas Show

Dec. 9: Itzhak Perlman

Dec. 12-15: Miami City Ballet in The Nutcracker

Dec. 18: Perry Como

Dec. 25-29: Cats

Jan. 15-16: David Copperfield

Feb. 1: Bill Cosby

Feb. 2: Benny Goodman Big Band Salute

Feb. 3-4: Ziegfeld, A Night At the Follies

Feb. 21-22: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

March 3: The Vienna Symphony Orchestra

March 16: New York City Opera National Company in Tosca