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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2005

Highbrow goes mainstream

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Local arts organizations have cooked up a six-course cultural sampler that they hope will leave audiences hungry for more.

Providing a taste of opera, ballet, theater, classical music, literature, and jazz, a program called Expose Yourself to the Arts aims to attract new patrons, especially those in the prized young professional demographic who, once hooked, will be buying tickets for decades.

We re all after filling seats. That s what we all need to do, nationwide, said Connie Calmes Szakovits, marketing manager for the Toledo Symphony, one of the collaborating organizations.

Seeing a performance at a discounted price is just part of the package they re offering; participants also will get to tour stages and schmooze with actors, musicians, singers, and dancers before and after the shows.

The program was inspired by two initiatives of Cincinnati s Enjoy the Arts/START. One is a three-tier membership program including one for full-time students and another for people age 30 and under that provides vouchers and/or discount cards for events sponsored by 26 local arts organizations. The other, called Inside Arts and Culture (originally called Arts and Culture for Dummies), is a partnership with local organizations to teach six monthly classes about the various art forms. Participants might tour a theater, find out what it takes to get an opera on stage, or learn the difference between a chamber ensemble, a chamber orchestra, and a symphonic orchestra, for example.

The purpose isn t so much to experience the performance, it s to understand what goes into the performance, explained Kristin Suess, the Cincinnati agency s manager of programs and services, in a telephone interview. If they learn, they are more likely to go.

Started about two years ago, the classes are open to people of all ages.

Originally we thought it would be a lot of young professionals, and we did get a fair number, but we also got empty-nesters and parents with their adult children looking for a way to do something together. e were really pleasantly surprised, Suess said.

The new Toledo program was proposed earlier this year by the symphony, Toledo Opera, Toledo Ballet, Toledo Repertoire Theatre, and Toledo Jazz Society. Representatives took the idea to Leadership Toledo, which brings people together to study needs in the community and work to address them.

It s a good place to go to get something like this off the ground, said the symphony s Calmes Szakovits. We re all short-staffed and have limited budgets, so we knew we needed that help.

Leadership Toledo accepted the challenge.

There were at least 10 of us who signed up to be part of this project, said Chris Kozak, a member of this year s Leadership Toledo class. Kozak, who is media relations officer for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, arranged for the library s Authors! Authors! program to be included in the events lineup.

KeyBank also is a sponsor.

We were looking at a way to bring people in to experience all of our different art forms, said Jennifer Jarrett, business coordinator for the Toledo Ballet. A person who appreciates the ballet may not have attended an opera or a performance of the jazz society.

The program also targets people who have had no exposure to the arts, those who may be interested but unsure of where or how to start.

You can t see a movie every weekend. At some point, you have to expand, observed Kozak, who said he has bought tickets to the series. For me, personally, it s the opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes, and have it explained to me for the first time, he said. I think if you know more, it allows you to appreciate it more.

Renay Conlin, general director of the Toledo Opera, speculated that fear of the unknown sometimes keeps people away. They may be intimidated by opera, thinking they have to have some special knowledge to enjoy it, she added.

People who give it a try will find that operas are timeless stories that deal with love and jealousy and faith and hope and betrayal, very human emotions that really haven t changed through the ages, she said.

I have found that when people say, I know what I like, it really means I like what I know, Conlin said, so you have to help people to get to know something that maybe they didn t have the opportunity to be exposed to when they were growing up.

Tickets are $125 per person for the six performances in the series and social/educational add-ons. Organizers say that if purchased separately, tickets for the events would cost more than $400.

Only 100 tickets are being sold for the series. They are available by calling 419-246-8000.

The six programs are:

  • do Opera s Madama Butterfly, 6:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Valentine Theatre. The evening will start with a pre-opera discussion with performers.

  • Toledo Ballet s annual production of The Nutcracker, 4:45 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Stranahan Theater. Participants will tour the stage and meet the performers, artistic director, choreographer, and director before the show.

  • Shirley Valentine, 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre. A reception with the cast will precede the play. Afterwards, participants will join performers on stage to explore the set and ask questions.

  • Classics by the Toledo Symphony, 6:30 p.m. March 25 at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Before the concert, TSO violinist Merwin Siu will discuss the works that will be performed. Afterwards, Diva restaurant will host a reception.

  • Authors! Authors! sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, 7 p.m. April 3 at the Stranahan Theater Great Hall. Khaled Hosseni, author of The Kite Runner, will be the speaker.

  • Toledo Jazz Society s Jazz Loop through downtown establishments including Murphy s, Manhattan s, Jackson s, Diva, and the Bronze Boar, 6:30 p.m. June 16.

    Tickets for the Expose Yourself to the Arts series, covering all six events, are $125 per person. Sales will be limited to 100 tickets. Information: 419-246-8000.

    Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6126.



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