Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 24  |  Friday, August 24, 2001  |  Number 14
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

The Auditorium Committee Makes Sure the Show goes on

by Mike Perricone

The Auditorium Committe When the lights go down and the curtain goes up on September 15 for Opening Night of Fermilab's 2001-2002 Arts Series, the 30 members of the Auditorium Committee can pause to congratulate each other on a job well done.

But just for a moment. Then they'll get right back to work on their current job: planning for next year's series, and for Opening Night a year from now.

"This is the time of the big shopping trip," said Arts Series Coordinator Janet MacKay-Galbraith, who will attend the Midwest Arts Conference in St. Paul, Minn. starting September 19.

One of the largest performing arts trade shows in the country, the conference offers workshops for arts planners and an array of hundreds of exhibits where artists' representatives display their offerings and availability.

"You literally go up and down the aisles, talking with representatives and picking up their material," said MacKay-Galbraith, who has more than a decade of experience in the process. "Obviously, some are more appealing than others. Then the Auditorium Committee will begin considering the choices. We work a little differently from most arts councils. We don't have one person deciding and reporting back to a board. We have 30 people making the decisions."

Auditorium Committee chair Ray Yarema, whose "other" job is head of the Particle Physics Division's Electrical Engineering Department, calls the committee "a small army of people who are mobilized to pull this off. Without them, it wouldn't happen."

They're at their busiest now, from September to December, meeting more frequently than their usual once-a-month schedule. They will discuss the possibilities for next season, the balance in the types of performances and the prices. They will vote on proposals for the program. Auditorium Committee members are appointed by the Fermilab director for two-year terms. Employees and alumni tend to make extended commitments; Hazel Cramer, a retiree, has served for 29 years. All are volunteers, augmented by four part-time employees: arts coordinator MacKay-Galbraith, stage manager Neil Christiansen, ticket manager Kathy Johnson, adding to her duties, as Wilson Hall receptionist, and Al Johnson, technical support.

During the season, the monthly committee meetings focus on reviews of the latest performance, which Yarema calls "Ebert-and-Roeper sessions" after TV's lively film review program. "Our meetings are pretty vibrant," he said. "Nobody is afraid to offer an opinion."

Staffing is also scheduled for the upcoming performance. A show requires 13 or 14 volunteers, usually including eight ushers. Committee members enjoy one major benefit: complimentary tickets.

But the 840-seat Ramsey Auditorium is far from a "papered" house. Paid attendance has risen nearly 50 percent over the past four seasons, from an average of 451 in 1997-98 to an average of 660 in 2000-01. The youth segment of the audiences has grown over that period from under five percent to 20 percent for some shows, following a reduction in prices for those under 18 years of age. The pricing policy grew from the results of an audience survey, showing the full prices were regarded as too high for a "family night" of entertainment.

Yet the survey also showed that audiences wanted more performances. This year's schedule includes the addition of a Sunday afternoon series of three classical music performances, held in the Art Gallery on the second floor of Wilson Hall. The gallery plan calls for seating of about 170.

"We hope this series will become very popular," Yarema said. "There's certainly a core of people interested in classical music, and we thought a different venue from the Auditorium might offer a more intimate setting for chamber music. This series also adds three performances to our normal schedule of 12 performances during the year."

The classical series is one benefit of the growing general audience for the series. As Yarema noted, "When you get full houses, you can try more things and take more chances." The growing audiences have also underwritten improvements in the lighting and sound systems.

The Auditorium's new speakers were recently the focus of a feature story in Sound and Communication magazine. The committee has also added ticketing software and a ticket printer, bringing those logistics systems up to date. Instead of poring over stacks of pre-printed tickets that may be incomplete or out of order, Johnson now can make seat selections by computer and print individual tickets with the names of the purchasers.

No amount of planning and upgrades can prevent the inevitable glitches. Yarema recalled the lecturer who had to cancel after a tree fell on him following a severe storm. But to the best of the committee's abilities, the show will go onóthis year, next year and in the years to come.

last modified 8/24/2001 by C. Hebert   email Fermilab