Info You Can Use: Various Things Arts Orgs Are Doing To Connect

This past weekend the students held their annual fund raiser for the Fall Mainstage production in our Lab Theatre. The event is entirely student generated and produced. Basically my only involvement over the summer is to unlock the door for them. Our technical director ensures nothing will burst into flames and everything is generally safe, but the work is largely done by the students.

I am very proud of the student who has essentially acted as the producer for the last 4 years because he keeps upping his game every year. Last Spring a new instructor introduced him to a different approach to developing a show and to the credit of all the students, they dedicated themselves to following the approach even though it meant a longer, more involved rehearsal process.

A fair segment of the audience tends to be students and for many of them, this is their first experience in a theatre of any kind. In some respects, it is a great introduction for them because it provides a less orthodox attendance experience and reveals the potential inherent in live performance. (Speaking of which, check out this baby by Great Canadian Theatre Company) On the other hand, it can make a more orthodox attendance experience seem all the more boring and disappointing by comparison.

Typically the entrance, stairway and hall to the lab theatre are heavily decorated. A woman in front of me on the ticket line who takes dance classes across the hall from theatre wondered aloud where the dance studios went. The performers also do a pre-show where they move about interacting with other performers and the audience members according to the backstory of their particular character.

My aim is to try to infuse a little more interesting and interactive experience to our mainstage space. There the expectations and context of the space creates a wholly different environment. We have added some new experiences and are continuing to think of others.

So in that vein, I wanted to point out some interesting programs I have been reading about lately that aim to change the experiences people have at arts and cultural events.

A Wall Street Journal this week had a story about silent disco parties that are being held at zoos in England and the US. It is something of an after hours party at the zoo where people are given headphone receivers. Attendees can dance to the same music without actually disturbing the animals with loud noise (though since many dress up as animals, it may make some of the predators hungry for a midnight snack as they flail silently about).

Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History seems to be so dedicated to providing participatory experiences in her museum, she even has opportunities in her restrooms. Reading her blog, Museum 2.0 provides a trove of great ideas and reflections on how they worked.

Back in May, ArtsFwd featured a number of audio postcards from arts organizations around Cleveland. I confess I only recently got around to listening to them after having bookmarked it all those months ago but I am glad I did. There are some great stories being told by the arts leaders in Cleveland. One related to this topic that caught my attention was told about the Great Lakes Theater.

The artistic and executive directors talks about how they designed the Hanna Theater to facilitate social interaction between the audience and performers. The bar is in the seating area and they have different seating areas- traditional seating along with loose club chairs and lounge and bar seating.

The theatre is open 90 minutes before the show and stays open until up to 90 minutes after to provide a place for people to gather and interact rather than simply showing up a half hour in advance, watching and leaving.

A few years ago, I wrote about Alan Brown talking about Gen Y’s vision of an ideal performance venue:

He said he asked them to describe what they would envision as a perfect jazz club. They said it would be a coffee house during the day but a bar at night with a separate room where those who wanted to be full immersed in the music could go. However, there would also be an anteroom where people could talk with friends and still listen to the music and still another anteroom where people could interact with friends more and listen less.

Though this sort of arrangement is highly unlikely, Great Lakes Theater seems to get pretty close. I am curious to know if anyone has attended at the Hanna Theater and what the experience is like. There aren’t a lot of review on Yelp that I have seen. My biggest fear is that someone would knock over their glass at the bar during a highly dramatic scene or there would be some other disturbing occurrence.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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