LVPAC's upcoming season to bring world to audiences
By Lou Fancher
"You can add Colombia," says Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center Executive Director Scott Kenison, about the upcoming 2015-16 season. "We have a few late additions to our lineup, and one is Cimmarón from Colombia."
Hard-charging diversity is the mode of operation this year, the first full season Kenison leads LVPAC. Joining the Livermore organization in January from the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C., he says there are a variety of reasons for the season's selections.
Strong box office performance in the past has troupes like the National Circus and Acrobats of the People's Republic of China returning. Groups introduced because they "just seemed really cool and interesting" include first-timers like DakhaBrakha from the Ukraine. The quartet blends folk music and contemporary rhythms with African and Eastern European instrumentation.
"In the end, I focused on bringing the world to Livermore and, on the flip-side, engaging local artists like Karen Margot and Le Jazz Hot and The Ray Charles Project, who we hope will be a hit with our audience in Livermore."
Recognizing a hit and being able to nab it require a blend of familiarity with the market, flexibility in booking, and a venue with high-quality acoustics, an experienced crew, accommodating staff and a strong track record at selling out the house. Last year, LVPAC ran about 84 percent capacity overall with more than a dozen sold-out shows.
"Since I arrived in Livermore, a number of returning artists have told me that they love to come here," Kenison says. "Part of it is the audience, but more importantly, the staff at the
Bankhead takes great care of our guests, both in front of and behind the curtain."
Pink Martini, a Portland-based songstress coming in the fall, is likely to sell out, but will challenge personnel behind the scenes. Production Manager Ed Estrada says the technical demands are easily handled, but the hospitality and transportation needs are extensive.
"Pink Martini will leave our hospitality coordinator with her hands full," Estrada says. "They have a large ensemble. Making sure that each member is happy will take some logistics."
Kenison says the number-one request he hears from audiences is for more theater presentations. He's most excited about "The Triplets of Belleville," a French film that will be accompanied by Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville and composer Benoit Charest conducting the jazz-inspired score. "It is such an unusual film," Kenison says, "and I love that we'll have the composer of the score playing with his orchestra, live on stage." Just in time for Halloween in October, L.A. Theater Works will present Bram Stoker's "Dracula," a theatrical retelling of the original vampire tale.
Kenison says he wants people to leave the Bankhead knowing "It's a place for them and not just for other folks." With dance offerings including Ballet Folklorico Mexicano and Moscow Festival Ballet (to name only two) representing different traditions, music configurations from jazz bands to orchestras to solo artists performing in multiple genres, solo and troupe comedy shows and seven resident companies including the Rae Dorough Speaker Series (mostly authors and scientists), it's hard to imagine anything or anyone will be left out.
Asked about appealing to younger audiences with rock, hip-hop or pop artists, Kenison is frank. "We all want to engage younger audiences, but there are issues. I know when I was younger, I wanted to be on my feet (at music concerts). A seated venue may not be the best. Audiences are graying, and honestly, they always have been. We can't fight that. We can continue to appeal to younger audiences, but not at the expense of our older patrons."
And if Kenison was allowed to roam freely, booking shows without thoughts to budgets or schedules, he knows exactly who he'd snare. "I think about who I would love to see in a 500-seat theater," he says. "And this is more of a glimpse into my personality: Bette Midler and American Ballet Theatre. Is that diverse enough?"
If Kenison means presenting Midler and ABT together, and combined with planning similar to this year's stretch to bring world art to Livermore, the answer is definitely "yes."