Attracting New Audiences with Mixed Media

The average age of today’s live theater patron is over 50 years old, based upon the amount of gray hair I see in Sacramento audiences. With the increasing number of baby boomers reaching retirement, the local theater scene has steady patronage. However, with the aging of the audience, theater directors need to look to the future and find ways to engage a younger demographic.

With hundreds of network and cable TV channels, video games aimed at every age and sensibility, multi-million dollar blockbusters on screens everywhere, and eyes glued to smartphones, how do theaters stand a chance? How do we keep the arts alive, and spark interest in a younger audience while maintaining the established theatergoers’ patronage?

One of the most exciting ways to do this is to fuse multiple artistic media‑think radio, visual arts, video projection, live theater, music, and special effects, mashed up with more traditional works.

City College art faculty strives to do just that‑continuing to move forward with increasingly powerful technology and current artistic movements while remaining true to the arts’ classical roots.

Chris Iwata, the dean of humanities and fine arts at City College, said, “A common thread is that our arts departments are moving with contemporary trends, but not moving away from their traditional foundations.”

With the recent renovation of the Performing Arts Center, it will be easier for the theater program to bring these exciting mixed media productions to City College stages. They have already begun this trend by putting twists into the Shakespeare in the Park plays, setting them in alternative timeframes‑for example, last summer’s “Twelfth Night” set in 1975 New York City, and “Julius Caesar,” set in the 1870’s.

The greater Sacramento area boasts dozens of community theaters that have dabbled in the melding of different art forms even more than unconventional settings.

In 2009, Placerville’s Imagination Theater breathed new life into its Halloween production of “Dracula” by doing a half-live-theater, half-film mash-up. This melding of art forms sold out the house, and resulted in two Elly Awards for the show for the best lighting and set designs of 2011.

“The Intergalactic Nemesis,” is another example of fantastic media-mixing, and is currently touring the country. The show went through California and played Davis’ Mondavi Center last fall. It is touted as a “live-action graphic novel,” and the performance combines a 1930’s-style science fiction radio show with projected comic book illustrations of the story. Beyond being cleverly written, the show was is excellently produced, and the mix of radio and comic book images was exciting for a both seasoned theater veterans and younger audience members. The one-night performance in Davis was nearly sold out, and was one of the best shows I have ever seen. Period.

The intermingling of different media can make for compelling new experiences for art lovers who are looking for something outside the run-of-the-mill. Classical orchestra concerts are sometimes played with images projected in the background for a more evocative performance. Lightshows have grown more and more complex with the advent of intelligent lighting and can add wow-factors to concerts.

In a recent performance of “One Night of Queen” at the Harris Center for the Arts, the lighting swept around the stage, changed colors, highlighted different band members as they soloed, and was in perfect time to the music. The concert’s opener, “Flash,” began with strobes and sudden, nearly explosive blasts from both speakers and audience-facing flood lights. The effect got the crowd fired up for a “kick your ass rock and roll concert,” as lead singer Gary Mullen put it with a laugh.

Film clips are becoming more common in community theaters as background images or taking the place of complicated scene changes.

Art galleries don’t just contain paintings or photographs anymore, but sometimes incorporate sound effects or music into their shows. “Sound art,” as it is sometimes called, defies categorization. It’s debated whether these displays fall into visual art or experimental music categories. They are probably both.

All this stirring about with all these media is creating exciting new ideas athat are permeating Sacramento theaters and City College’s art department alike.This forward-moving yet grounded approach is helping to to maintain a strong audience of established arts supporters and to attract new art lovers to the scene, which will ensure a long and enduring place for the arts.

Originally published in the Express – City College’s student-run newspaper on 3/26/2014.  Find the Express Story HERE.

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