Theater, Music, and Loads of Laughs at a Discount
By Jeremy Pasker
Every season, beginning over the summer while students and faculty are soaking up the sun, the Center For the Arts (CFA) has the unfortunate task of bridging the culture gap between the Island’s elder, senior, more stubborn residents and the youthful, more outgoing ones. Not an easy task, in the slightest.
The stress that must go into trying to satisfy both the generation that grew up watching I love Lucy and the generation that grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The CFA must consider students, campus staff, parents, their children, and Seniors when deciding on theater shows.
“This process is neither random nor easy,” explained Michele Walsh, CFA’s Marketing Manager, acknowledging how months of preparation, negotiating artist fees, and scheduling goes into creating a cohesive final product. “It would be much easier if I had an endless budget for acts like Beyoncé, The Counting Crows, and Katy Perry—however this is not the case.”
Given the limited public university budget that the CFA runs on, a pittance compared to arenas like the Apollo or Barclays Center, the marketing team in 1P starts with certain artists in mind then narrows the field from there because not every act imagined will work out.
“You don’t go to the artist directly unfortunately; [we] have to book through their agents and management,” Walsh said, after joking about how great it would be if artists contacted the CFA first. “It’s a long process but it’s very exciting when you finally receive that phone call stating someone like John Leguizamo, Aisha Tyler, or Olympia Dukakis wants to do the show.”
Even the CFA’s “Children’s Series” for instance, like the yearly showing of A Christmas Carol, have crossover appeal. Early on in the show season, CFA’s theater stage hosts Alice in Wonderland. The New york Times called it “a polished and knowing theater company and a felicitous event.” And the year before CFA hosted stage acrobatics and a laser and light show where the performers dressed in animal costumes.
Given their lean toward stage spectacle, CFA may have unintentionally attracted the local hallucinogenic aficionados.
The vast disparity in the CFA’s demographics from young to old has forced them to fiddle with their marketing plan. A strategy that leaned too far in one direction, whether toward the older crowd or toward the younger one, would risk alienating the other side.
“Older people aren’t always computer savvy, so placing a Facebook/Twitter post may not get to that specific audience [when] we are looking for them,” Walsh said. “Again, I try to have a specific “group” in mind when booking a show. It makes it easier to create a ‘target marketing plan’.”
Michele Walsh actually graduated from CSI, once upon a time. Back then she was a theater major, performing the Black Box Theatre, also in 1P. Between her time as a student and marketing manager, Walsh has worked for different theaters along the way, even dabbling in stage management.
Over that time, and even before it, CFA has built up a loyal fan base, a base that returns year after year, some even donate extra to preserve signature Staten Island entertainment. They cannot be forgotten, despite CFA’s new found access to younger campus residents.
When asked if the she would consider shifting her attention from the older acts the CFA tends to gravitate toward to more modern acts, Michelle, initially, laughed at the use of “older acts” to describe them.
“I know this may blow your mind but people really love those acts ,” she assured. “They bring them back to an era that we don’t appreciate. I remember when Davy Jones came to the CFA, I can’t tell you how many women were giggling and blushing while meeting their teenage idol.”
Honestly, my mind was blown. I had initially forgotten who Davy Jones even was. Then I recalled the times spent watching Nick at Night, way back when.
For those of you who don’t know (and no one would blame you if you didn’t), Davy Jones was the frontman for The Monkeys. The Monkeys, basically, were a Beatles-esque version of the 90’s MTV created boy band 2gether, only way back in the 60’s.
CFA has, and probably still will, consider students of all ages while booking future performances. “Any suggestions are always welcomed and taken seriously, except for deceased people. I had someone ask for Johnny Cash one year [then] had to break the bad news to that person….” A young market, new to collegiate life, so willing to experience live shows, like the residents at CSI are a flush market for the CFA. The performers will still need to be good enough to peek interest though.
“Listen, who wouldn’t want to see Rihanna in concert?,” Walsh rhetorically asked right before crossing herself off the vaunted ‘ I will be thrilled to see Rihanna’ list. Undoubtedly, because the lack of such a sufficient size budget, CFA will use other tactics to attract the disposable income of their younger audience. “I’d like to create a local ‘indie’ music night in the future. I’m a big fan of local performers and hope to utilize their talents more.”
She went on to admit that her goal at CFA is primarily to bring as much diversity as possible to 1P, not just one genre of entertainment, going as far to shout out CSI’s Got Talent performers as potential future acts to grace the building 1P stage.
So adamant about attracting diverse, younger crowds, CFA has seeked advice from CAB. In the past, CAB has helped seek out events students would enjoy. CAB will partially fund some of the events this year, allowing students to purchase them at a discount. All events at the CFA are Clue Credit certified.
“I am working on bringing a younger “vibe” to the CFA [and] am excited to bring Aisha Tyler and John Leguizamo this season,” believing them to be “edgy”, “intelligent”, and “talented”, enough to do just that.
Sooner or later, she wants to extend the performance season to include a Great Lawn musical performance, provided more students are willing to attend them, allowing for CFA to increase their budget (probably not to Rihanna proportions though). She’s also, unsuccessfully, been trying for some time, to add a speaker series, and a theatre residency. “I’d like to say ‘it’s a work in progress’.”
The Center For the Arts has big dreams and aspirations regardless of their lack of notoriety or a big pop star size budget.
“You don’t see me too often because my office is hidden but pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. That’s from the Wizard of Oz in case that falls into the ‘older act’ category. In the end, [though], I think I’ve spent more than enough time here at the theatre to say, it’s a great place to be.”