“It’s odd and nice. I feel like we’re in my living room,” remarked Weidner Center executive director Kate Green as she addressed the After Thoughts audience in the grand foyer of the venue she directs yesterday evening (Tuesday, November 5, 2013). “It’s nice to have you here at my place.”
In her presentation titled, “The Performing Arts: What Really Goes on Behind the Curtain,” Green took about 75 audience members on a figurative tour of what it’s like to be executive director of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, sharing fun facts, debunking misconceptions, telling stories of agents and artists, and explaining the logistics of balancing a season calendar and the cost of putting on a show.
“Well, I get to see snippets of most shows,” Green said, addressing misconceptions of glamour and enjoying all the shows and hanging out with famous artists. “I say ‘Hi’ and scurry backstage to handle box office reports, gross sales, ticket count, tax receipts, and expenses to feed actors—so that by the time the show is done, the company can leave with check in hand.” Green explained that booking a show and creating a season happens 12-24 months in advance. “Some artists, like Yo-Yo Ma are booked 5 years in advance,” Green said, “and we’re on his list.” Sometimes acts back out late, Green explained, citing how celebrity Steve Martin cancelled his bluegrass show when he became a first time father at the age of 67 earlier this year.
The audience learned that a big part of planning a new season is discovering what sort of entertainment is available and gauging what the market will respond to. “A good rule of thumb is ‘don’t book for yourself,’” Green said. “Not everyone is going to be a fan of what you like.” The Weidner Center balances its programming between Broadway, comedy, commercial events, fine arts/world music, and family genres. Green credited the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York, NY and recommendations from industry counterparts to help her stay apprised of good shows.
“It’s not as easy as calling up the agent to say, ‘I want to book the Blue Man Group for my birthday,’” Green said. A tour map graphic (complete with Blue Man heads) illustrated how a touring show begins on the east or west coast and heads across the country. That means, unfortunately, that many touring shows tend to be available in the Midwest at about the same time, Green said.
Engaging the audience with a “guess the artist fee” quiz, Green broke down the cost of the shows into artist fees, event labor (backstage: stagehands/technicians, security, wardrobe, hair/makeup, catering; front of house: house manager, floor managers, ushers, ticket office, valets, coat check, food/beverage, custodial), marketing (print, television, radio, billboard, web, social media, posters, fliers), artist travel, lodging, and hospitality. She explained how a show like the Blue Man Group could cost $73,500, meaning 1,500 tickets would need to be sold at $49 each to break even.
Green delighted the audience with examples of unusual artist riders. Notorious for including eccentric demands, an artist rider is enclosed with show contracts and defines the artist’s requirements for the show and personal comfort. Green mentioned the 240 pounds of bananas (in three stages of ripeness) and eight pounds of cream cheese in the Blue Man Group rider that elicited the grocery check-out line comment, “that has to be the most epic banana bread recipe ever.” Green also shared Kathy Griffin’s request that “House lights must be dark. ARTIST DOES NOT WANT TO SEE THE AUDIENCE AT ALL;” Imagination Movers’ “One (1) Starbucks Venti Iced Mocha Frappuchino with ½ pump vanilla, NO whipped cream, MUST BE IN ARTIST DRESSING ROOM 10 MINUTES PRIOR TO SOUND CHECK;” and Garry Krinsky’s (of Toying with Science), “Bed & Breakfast, College Housing, Private Home… not acceptable.”
Green also spoke about the Weidner’s commitment to education, through its Stage Doors Education Series, and shared fun trivia facts about the venue. The mystery of nonconsecutive seat numbering was explained — odd numbered seats are on the left, even numbers on the right, and 100-numbered are in the center. Green even showed a photo of the emergency fire curtain that weighs in at 10,000 pounds and is made of a steel grid and fire-resistant material. “I’m not saying this is sexy,” she quipped, “I’m just showing this stuff.”
Green took questions at the end of her talk, sharing additional tidbits. A company is hired to individually hand polish each piece of the venue’s famous Chihully chandelier, she said. When asked about any damage from the Blue Man Group show, Green assured attendees the materials were water soluble, adding “We love this place; we’d never put it in harm’s way.”
When the presentation wrapped up, attendees were invited for a tour backstage with venue scheduling/program manager Stephanie Maufort. Guests were guided to the Cofrin Family Hall main stage, which is equipped with an 80-foot high, 80-line batten grid system operated with pulleys and counter-weights. Maufort explained all of the architectural features in Cofrin Hall are designed for acoustics, indicating the rounded surfaces of the balconies, adjustable floating acoustic panels, material on the walls to absorb sound, and even air handlers built into the floor to eliminate noisy ductwork. Guests went on to see the loading docks, green room, star and chorus dressing rooms (with showers and bathrooms), and wardrobe rooms (with washer/dryer facilities). As a bonus, tour-goers were able to enter the space below the stage to see the nine spiral lift columns that raise and lower the floor to remove seating when the extended stage is in place.
Throughout Maufort’s tour, she shared anecdotes including how Jerry Seinfeld’s artist rider included chocolate covered Twizzlers, which were new on the market and difficult to find. A staff member finally happened to see them at a checkout and bought them. When Seinfeld arrived, he said, “Woah, you found these?!”
Now halfway through its third season, After Thoughts seeks to connect women in the community with UW-Green Bay. The gatherings showcase University faculty, staff and guests, and convene women — and often “a few good men” — after their workdays for learning, enrichment and fun. The series is so named because sessions provide “After Thoughts” for participants to take with them when they leave. Remaining this season is “Modern Pilgrims and Ancient Paths: Saint James’ Path for the Contemporary Soul” with Cristina Ortiz, UW-Green Bay Associate Professor of Humanistic Studies (Spanish), on Tuesday, March 4, 2014; and “Hall of Fame Habits: Bridging the Gap from Frustrated to Fit and Free” with Jane Birr, UW-Green Bay Associate Lecturer of Physical Education, on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Follow After Thoughts on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/afterthoughts.uwgb. Visit www.uwgb.edu/afterthoughts/ for more information about the series.
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