Arts for All Ages – Rock ‘n Roll lures
younger audiences to performing arts centers
Author: Dave Brooks
Date: January 31,2008

COSTA MESA, CALIF — On a packed night in one of Orange
County’s busiest cities, 300 twenty- and thirty-somethings
clamored in from an unusual Southern California rain for a chance
to stand just feet from a trio of unlikely
“Swede-lebrities.”    

           
Peter Bjorn and John, the unpretentious Scandinavian rock band
behind the sleeper hit “Young Folks” were kicking off
the “Off Center” Series at the Orange County Performing
Arts Center. Designed to bring a younger audience to the PAC,
the two-act show gave fans who paid the $30-ticket price unusually
close access to a band which could normally fill 1,500- to
2,000-capacity clubs.     

           
“We’re trying to set the bar as high as we can, but at
the same time keep prices reasonable because we’re doing this
to reach some audiences that we’re not currently
reaching,” said Terry Dwyer, OCPAC president.
     

           
Across the country, performing arts centers are putting on their
rock promoter hats to lure in younger audiences that don’t
usually attend ballet, opera or Broadway musicals. While some of
the rock shows have crossover success and lure young audiences into
mainstream PAC programming, often the main objective is to create a
more well-rounded programming stream.   

           
“Influences run in both directions and just as classical
performances inspire many of today’s artist, there are
contemporary acts capturing the attention of programming
boards,” said Joseph Carter, of the Los Angeles Centre
Theatre Group and chair-elect of INTIX. “Indie rock has
crossed over and there’s a genuine interest in modern music
as content.”      

           
Some indie acts have been asked to perform alongside resident
orchestras — in 2007, Sufjan Stevens performed a series of
concerts with the New York Philharmonic at the Kennedy Center,
while both Bright Eyes and Grizzly Bear have performed with their
Los Angeles counterparts at the Disney Concert
Hall.     

           
“When we put this together, we wanted to create something
unique; an atmosphere and an environment that will be a cool one to
experience this music. It’s not the kind where you just sit
back in an upright chair,” Dwyer
said.           

           
But Dwyer was also quick to point out that this series was not a
“profit-making engagement” and required some subsidy
from contributor income. Paying the talent was the mostly costly
component, he said, and the center’s small space restricted
capacity to 300 general admission tickets and a handful of balcony
VIP seats that sold for
$60.           

           
“This a very important institutional initiative and
that’s why we are happy to add subsidy,” Dwyer said.
“We don’t look at it as a single programming stream
that is divided by a spotted line. It’s part of a whole
season of activity that’s wide-reaching across
genres.” 

           
OCPAC has a larger main hall for main events, but Dwyer held the
concert in its smaller Samueli Theater, a rectangular space with
high vaulted ceilings and virtually no barrier between the audience
and small stage. The Center operated two bars during the
performance, selling mixed drinks, beer and wine. The series will
continue once a month with upcoming concerts by the Cold War Kids
and Matt Costa.   

           
“What’s most important is that they get in the door and
experience something that is entertaining and meaningful to them.
It’s a much longer term prospect to think that their interest
might be piqued in Broadway or ballet,” said Dwyer.
“It’s not a natural cross-over between opera and
independent bands, but there will be people who want to check out
both.”           

           
The Kimmel Center in Philadelphia has been experimenting with
similar programming and in 2007, added an indie rock slate to its
Summer Solstice series. Bands like Enon and Beretta 76 played the
late night slots for the all-night event, which stretched from 3
p.m. on a Saturday until
dawn.           

           
“It can be a real challenge to host these acts and be
authentic,” said Dafni Dimopoulous, the Kimmel center’s
director of Public Relations. “As performing arts centers,
we’re not experienced rock promoters. Beyond entertaining,
we’re trying to engage the community with programming that
challenges people.”    

           
Dwyer has similar advice for PACs interested in tackling this type
of
programming.          

           
“Take as long as possible to get to know your audience and
make sure that if you go in this area, you can maintain a level of
quality that is important to your own institutional mission,”
he said. “Also try to build up a base of support for this
kind of initiative internally before you launch it so that people
feel it’s important.”

 

Interviewed for this story: Terry Dwyer, (714) 556-2122; Joseph
Carter, (213) 972-8040; Dafni Dimopoulous, (215) 893-1999