Valley art scene reaching out to younger fans - East Valley Tribune: News

Valley art scene reaching out to younger fans

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Posted: Thursday, October 6, 2005 12:33 pm | Updated: 7:38 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Arts administrators don’t like to put it in such terms, but here’s the essential truth: Their audiences, largely older patrons of the performing and visual arts, are dying off.

Now there’s a decidedly more desperate effort taking place in the Valley to attract younger patrons.

After all, they’re trying to tackle a demographic — roughly the 20-to-45 set — with unprecedented access to arts and entertainment options at home.

“They’re a difficult group to capture,” says Valley actor and Nearly Naked Theatre artistic director Damon Dering. “They are Nintendo and PlayStation and movies on demand and all that stuff. It’s hard to get them away from that media and into the arts.”

They’re also a population segment with less arts education than their parents and grandparents.

Which is why arts groups in recent years have begun taking cues from influential thinkers like Ben Cameron of Theatre Communications Group and National Endowment for the Arts chairman Dana Gioia in offering “bonus features” (think DVD extras) like pre- and post-show cocktail mixers, talk-backs and discussion groups, all efforts to turn typical shows into well-rounded cultural and social experiences.

More fascinating, though — and more indicative of arts groups’ desperation — are the changes being made to programming.

Symphony groups notoriously reticent to stray from the classical canon are offering concerts of soundtrack scores to popular films like the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” series or, more recently, video games (like the touring “Video Games Live”) — usually to record-breaking attendance figures.

Theater groups are spicing up their season schedules with more populist fare, like adaptations of best-selling books like “Tuesdays With Morrie” and “Nickel and Dimed,” when not testing boundaries with edgier fare.

(Even Mesa’s relatively tame Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre has tried staging darker musicals like “Miss Saigon” in seasons past and will do the risqué “The Full Monty” next year.) “This is all experimental,” Dering says. “We’re all trying to shake it up and see what works.”

Of course, such experimentation hasn’t come without critical warnings. Detractors suggest edgier efforts might pre-emptively alienate older patrons while setting up those coveted younger audience members for later disappointment.

“Spicing up concerts with bells and whistles may very well engage the short-attention-span set,” wrote Baltimore Sun music critic Tim Smith last week, “but those folks may then expect the extras every time they enter a concert hall.”

Which is why arts administrators these days are thinking less like artists and more like party planners, prognosticators and, well, circus jugglers.

Here's a look at how some Valley groups are trying to do it.



The Phoenix Symphony will play live music while showing popular Looney Tunes cartoons on large screens during its “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” concerts 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Dodge Theatre.

The show was created by San Francisco conductor George Daugherty in 1990 as a way to draw younger audiences into symphony halls. He has conducted the show with symphonies worldwide, and most of the audiences have been dominated by 20- to 40-year-olds and first-time symphony-goers, he says.

“It's always been my great passion to bring people into the concert hall who don't normally go,” Daugherty says. “My whole philosophy is that if you can get them in there under any pretext the first time, then they will get very excited. . . . They will come back and make it a regular part of their lives.”

The Phoenix Symphony also is creating a new event for young working professionals this season, Atrium at Symphony Hall. It's an intimate, cabaret-style evening designed for people to drop in after work for drinks, food and music ranging from brass to jazz.

There are five Atrium events planned for 2005-06; the first kicks off Oct. 21 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

“We're just starting out with music, but eventually I think (organizers plan it to be) a happy hour leading into some other kind of event, like a comedian or a film — to have a variety of entertainment,” says publicity and promotions coordinator Jennifer Rogers.

- Erin Concors, Get Out

‘Bugs Bunny on Broadway’

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Dodge Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix

Cost: $18-$40

Information: (602) 495-1999 or

'Video Games Live'

Way beyond blips and bleeps

Jack Wall admits it can be hard convincing orchestra musicians to take his brainchild — “Video Games Live,” a new nationally touring concert of video-game soundtracks with gobs of special effects and video segments — seriously.

“They show up kind of, like, ‘Ah, it’s just another night of work,’” says Wall, a video-game composer by trade. “Some of the principals may not show up, and they have their (second-chair musicians) in there. But over time, that will change.”

If classically trained musicians have a hard time wrapping their heads around a night of video-game music — which, with advances in technology, is more complex than the blips and bleeps of yesteryear’s Atari games — audiences, especially young video-gamers, are eager to eat it up, as evidenced by a massively popular July debut at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“People were cheering for their favorite songs,” Wall says. “It sounded like NSync *NSYNC cq was onstage.”

That early success prompted Wall and partner Tommy Tallarico, also a game composer, to expand and retool their national tour. The Nov. 3 date at Phoenix’s Dodge Theatre comes after canceling a September date at Cricket Pavilion.

Wall says symphonies facing shrinking audiences are more willing to accept avant garde, populist fare these days in hopes it will lure younger audiences into their regular seasons.

“A lot of these symphonies are having a hard time,” he says. “I think the reason they’re giving us a shot is a test: ‘Let’s see if people come to see that orchestra.’ ”

- Chris Page, Get Out

‘Video Games Live’

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3

Where: Dodge Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix

Cost: $20-$45

Information: (480) 784-4444 or



The after-work cocktail-hour idea is also being used by Arizona Opera to give patrons a place to hang out between work and the show. The Intermezzo Lounge begins at 6 p.m. on Friday performances at Phoenix Symphony Hall (the concept has not been applied to Tucson performances yet) and includes appetizers, live music and a cash bar.

“We're creating lounges, and we'll have live music and special cocktails created around the theme of the opera,” says marketing and promotions manager Colin Columna. Club Carmen will kick off this year's opera season prior to the 7:30 p.m. performance of "Carmen" on Friday.

“We'll have a really great classical guitarist and percussionist doing some music thematic to 'Carmen' and flamenco,” Columna says. “We'll have sangria and a special tapas menu.”

Nationally, people in the 30s and 40s age group are statistically the fastest-growing opera attendees, Columna says. “I think we need to do more to encourage that attendance . . . and find interesting ways for them to experience the art form.”

Tickets are $75 to the lounge and the show, or $15 when purchased separately from opera tickets.

- Erin Concors, Get Out


When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Phoenix Symphony Hall, 225 E. Adams St.

Cost: $31-$117

Information: (602) 266-7464 or

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

‘Buzz: Fall SMoCA Nights’

Fashion shows on the catwalk, disc jockeys and live bands, drinks at a cash bar and gourmet appetizers and hors d'oeuvres are all designed to attract Gen Xers into Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art's SMoCA Nights events three times a year.

Created in 2000, organizers aimed to “try and create a fun, partylike atmosphere in the museum at night, instead of during the day, to kind of wash away these stereotypes .. of it being a really passive place with white walls, where you have to be hushed,” says museum spokeswoman Lesley Oliver.

The atmosphere at SMoCA Nights was designed to offer “something that's edgier, or a little bit different, than they would find if they were just going out to a club or a bar,” Oliver says. “It's also drawing an awareness to the diverse exhibitions that we bring,” she says. “Some people will come just for the fashion show or the music. .. Once they're in the museum, I see them looking at the art and talking about it.”

- Erin Concors, Get Out

‘Buzz: Fall SMoCA Nights’

When: 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Nov. 3

Where: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7380 E. Second St.

Cost: $15

Information: (480) 994-2787 or


Scottsdale Center for the Arts is targeting adults ages 20 to 39 through its Ignite series of four concerts this year, with the goal of igniting a lifelong passion for the performing arts, says the center's director of performing arts, Cory Baker.

The Ignite shows include meet-and-greet sessions with artists, pre-performance and after-hours parties at the center and at local bars, cash bars and gourmet appetizers, and a membership club with reduced ticket prices to performances.

This season, the Ignite performances include British comedian Dave Gorman journeying the World Wide Web in “Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure” Wednesday, dance legend Savion Glover tapping to classical music Nov. 4, the modern dance moves and Brazilian martial art form Capoeira in “Dance Brazil” Feb. 10, and the world's largest hip-hop orchestra, daKAH, May 13. Kicking off the series, the Ignite Lounge begins with a mixer event at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mickey's Hangover, 4310 N. Brown Avenue, Scottsdale.

Ignite was created by the center's director, Kathy Hotchner, who was inspired by buyers for department stores that seek direct input from teens to find out what's popular before buying juniors and misses clothing for the season.

Beginning in 2001, Hotchner created in-house focus groups of 20- to 39-year-olds at the center, who brainstormed about what events they would like to see.

“The thing we heard was, a lot of people in this (age) group are out of college, they're not quite having kids yet. ... There is this kind of 'in-between stage' where people are looking for things to do that might not be at the bar,” says Baker, 30, who was part of the first focus group.“So they're looking for places to meet people and socialize, to meet other art-minded people — people who are interested in the arts.”

- Erin Concors, Get Out

‘Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure’

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Oct. 13, 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 2 p.m. Oct. 16

Where: Theater 4301, 4301 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Cost: $36

Information: (480) 994-2787 or



While Ballet Arizona doesn't have any specific initiatives or shows aimed at younger audiences, its free “Ballet Under the Stars” performed in Valley parks each September often draws twenty- and thirtysomething spell out, trib style crowds, says spokeswoman Heather Hudak.

This year's show included modern dance pieces “Sinatra Suites,” with choreography by Twyla Tharp, and the sensual, dramatic “Ave Maria,” choreographed by Dwight Rhoden and performed in scant clothing.

“We do a good amount of modern ballets that attract younger audiences,” Hudak says. “I think the (2005-06) show that would be most appealing (to 20- to-40-year-olds) would be 'Mosaik,' which we are performing in February.”

The modern ballet, choreographed by the ballet's artistic director, Ib Andersen, is based on the themes of love and attraction.

Another way the ballet aims to attract younger crowds: “We sell half-price tickets at the door (beginning) an hour before each show, to students of any age,” Hudak says. “It's mostly college students that take advantage of it.”

Info: (602) 381-1096 or

- Erin Concors, Get Out



Arizona Theatre Company, the largest theater group in the state, is looking for its current season of literary-themed shows to reach a new audience of theatergoers, and it’s enticing them with lots of gimmicky extras.

A seasonlong book club is being developed, and organizers are tying its second show, the “Sex and the City”-tinged one-woman show “Bad Dates,” around worst-date contests and speed-dating matches.

Meanwhile, it’s hoping those anticipating the upcoming film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” will be curious enough to check out its season-opening stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, directed by renowned theater icon Jon Jory.

But in a more philosophical frame of mind, ATC artistic director David Ira Goldstein says he’s less worried about finding potential artsgoers in younger demographics.

“The audience in their younger 20s, I’m encouraged; I see a renaissance,” he says.

It’s that large older-20s-to-30s group he’s more concerned about.

“Sometimes I look and see it was Generation X, in whatever ways, we lost,” he says. “It certainly seems to be the generation that was the least interested in theater.”

- Chris Page, Get Out

‘Pride and Prejudice’

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 8 p.m. Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 1 and 7 p.m. Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Oct. 19-21, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 1 and 7 p.m. Oct. 23

Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix

Cost: $20-$54

Information: (602) 256-7399 or

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