Thursday, October 16, 2014

Acting Out: Orpheum Programs Impact Education Reform

Let's add some History to the mix! Students
gaze at the historic Orpheum as they wait for
the show to begin! The Student Matinee Series
brings together hundreds of kids from all
schools and backgrounds to enjoy the arts.
With the forthcoming Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education, there's been a lot of talk about our Education programs and how they'll grow with the completion of our new building.  What many don't realize is that we actually began educating students on the arts in the mid-1990s.  Years later, the Orpheum is not only a leader in education, it's an innovator.

For those who have been keeping up with the education convo, you've been pummeled with buzzwords like "common core," "education reform," and maybe even "arts integration."  For a lot of us, it's hard to determine what these terms really mean for our kids, but it sure sounds good!  Fortunately, the Orpheum understands it backwards, forwards, sideways and upside down.

Our stellar Education Department works diligently to use the arts as a way to make ALL subjects easier for students to understand (arts integration or, more appropriately, teaching through the arts). 

Let's take our upcoming Family and Student Matinee production Dream Carver, playing in January, as an example.  The show isn't just a performance of handcrafted puppets with Broadway-trained puppeteers so that students can experience the art of puppetry - although that is part of it.  Students will walk away with curriculum connections (a much better term for common core) in the Fine Arts, Health and Well-Being, Language Arts, and Social Sciences.  Schoolhouse Rock Live!, playing November 14 for families, uses the classic cartoon to make learning fun in areas such as Math, Science, Technology, Language Arts, and Social Sciences.  Each experience gives students an academic takeaway beyond that of seeing a performance.

In this Intro to Teaching Through the Arts class, teachers
discover first-hand how students can demonstrate
comprehension of classroom subject matter through
targeted art projects. In this case, teachers show how they
understood a tale about Athena by interpreting what her
armor would look like based on the information and
situations presented in the story.
And it's not about asking teachers to bring students to our shows and then leaving them to figure out the rest.  Teachers are provided with study guides to shows, we bring both Broadway and Kennedy Center certified teaching artists into the classroom, we offer professional development programs for teachers, and we host a grant program that allows teachers to apply for free and discounted tickets to our Student Matinee series. 

The Orpheum even encourages extracurricular learning through its Summer Camps and Broadway Master Classes

In addition, the Orpheum works side-by-side with the Shelby County School system to not only make sure that what we're doing is relevant, but that we're actively encouraging education reform that meets our state's needs.

During the 2013-2014 season, the Orpheum's Education programs served 258 schools, including 11 charter schools; 42,851 students and families through the Student Matinee and Family Series; and 165 teachers through our professional development workshops.

What's cool is that these are things we've been able to accomplish without the new Centre.  Just think of what we can do with it.  As it stands, we're bursting at the seams.  The Centre is going to help us expand our teacher workshops for an expected attendance of 320 teachers per year, that's a 95% increase over what we can accommodate right now.  Overall the new Centre is going to help us reach 100,000 students, families, and teachers per year, or 35% composite growth.  And last but not least, we'll be able to offer programs in technical theatre.  Students who want to learn about lighting design or sound mixing will finally have the chance to get that kind of training at the Orpheum.

Basically, great things have been happening, and there are amazing things afoot!  We encourage you to check out the Education pages on our website to see what we're doing and how you can get involved.  Of course, whether or not you're an educator, parent, or student, you can still lend your support through our Brick Campaign or by giving to the Orpheum Centre.

The arts are the gateway to making learning more fun and engaging so that students are motivated to see academics as a passion more so than an obligation.  With your help, we are making it happen!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Wild Ride from Broadway to Beale: The Presenter

Joey of WAR HORSE met real horses of the Mounted Police Force
at a special Press Event at The Orpheum Theatre in March 2014.
Over the past few months we've been periodically exploring all that goes into bringing your Broadway favorites to the Orpheum stage.  Last time we took an in-depth look at the Press Agent and his or her role in prepping for the engagement.  Today, we're talking about an element that you're pretty familiar with already: the presenter.  Which of course in this case is the Orpheum Theatre!

If you hadn't noticed, the presenter is involved from the very start.  The presenting theatre ultimately decides which shows to pick up based on what's touring at the time, it works with the press agent to help drive ticket sales by putting together a marketing strategy and selling Group and Season Tickets, and it encourages community buzz by helping actors get out and about to local TV and radio stations.  

However, it doesn't stop there.  In many ways, the Orpheum is the middle man between the show and its fans.  It's the audience's connection to the production, and it's the production's connection to the city.  Everything from getting actors to and from press appointments to ensuring that patrons are comfortable during the performance to offering special opportunities like Broadway 101 Master Classes to giving actors a pocket full of happy Memphis memories falls within the Orpheum's scope. 

Students get some training in Broadway choreography
at a Broadway 101 Master Class.
Our Education Department offers some great programs relating to our Broadway shows.  For most productions, we offer Broadway 101, which allows students to enjoy dinner and a master class on a relevant theatre topic before seeing the show live.  Many times, students get to learn from actors and performers from the show, giving students great tools and real-world insight into the performing arts profession.  For family-friendly Broadway shows, the Education Department often hosts Kids Night on Broadway, and many productions allow the Orpheum Theatre to offer a Student/Teacher Rush performance at some point during a show's engagement.  We've also been known to take actors directly into schools for on-site workshops.  All in all, if you're a budding young performer who is interested in learning more about the biz, our Education programs have you covered!

Did you know that the Orpheum helps take care of the cast and crew too?  Upon arrival, we give our actors a welcome package that tells them all of the wonderful things they can do in Memphis.  From necessities like the nearest grocery store to fun stuff like how to get to Graceland, we want them to love Memphis as much as we do.  We also host a private party for the cast and crew of every Broadway show that graces our theatre.  Even more fun, however, is that our wonderful volunteer group, Friends of the Orpheum or FOTO, always make the cast and crew a special home-cooked meal on the Sunday of the run in between matinee and evening performances.  This meal has become legendary among touring groups, and there's nothing that says Southern hospitality quite like the word "homemade."

Ultimately, the goal is to make sure the cast , the crew, and the audience wants to keep coming back - whether it be returning to Memphis for those from out of town or visiting the Orpheum Theatre for another spectacular Broadway experience.  While it's true that we can't help but have a little fun, we also continually strive to do justice to our job as a presenter.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cooper Grodin, Phantom star and Elvis fan

We’re excited that The Phantom of the Opera is back on the Orpheum stage, and star Cooper Grodin is happy the tour brought him to Memphis – a real highlight for an Elvis fan. 

“The production actually hasn’t been here in 13 years and I have a deep affinity for Elvis – sometimes people mistake me for him and so it’s actually quite exciting to be here,” he told us recently.

Grodin planned to hit all the Memphis hotspots – especially Graceland – and recorded at Sun Studio on Monday. Sightseeing aside, he’s spent quite a bit of time playing the iconic Phantom in the spectacular 25th anniversary tour here now.

Grodin said knew he wanted to play the Phantom as soon as he saw the show on stage for the first time.

“When I was even considered for it that was profoundly exciting, because the minute I saw it I said to myself, that’s it that’s really the role you want to take on,” he told us at a recent press event, “and to take it on in such magnitude as this production is really a dream come true.”

Grodin has also starred in Shakespeare in the Park’s Into the Woods, the 25th anniversary tour of Les Miserables, the Fantasticks and a slew of other beloved shows. He also played the King himself, Elvis Presley, while performing at the Fireside Theater in Wisconsin.

There’s a very strange magical energy associated with that guy, and when you’re wearing tight blue jeans and a tight white T-shirt and an acoustic guitar and you slick your hair back and you walk on stage and someone says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Presley!’ You go out there and people go crazy – they just relive it, ” he said. “They totally surrender to the illusion – they just go crazy. You can hear these women just freaking out and I’m like, “I’m just a Russian Jew from New York, I’m not really Elvis.”

See Grodin as the Phantom through Oct. 5 at the Orpheum. Get your tickets here.

Watch a clip of our interview with Grodin and resident director David Ruttura above, and see Grodin as Elvis below.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Beyond the Stage: A New Tour for a New Time

Resident Director David Ruttura and actor Cooper Grodin. Photo by Frank Chin
If you haven’t seen ThePhantom of the Opera since it was last on stage at The Orpheum Theatre in 2001 – and especially since its first visit in 1997 – you can expect a new look at the characters, the set and that fabulous chandelier.

The beloved songs, the moving score and the epic story remain the same that we’ve always loved, but the 25th anniversary tour of Phantom also brings the show into a new generation. Our world has changed since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh conceived the original production in 1986, and as resident director David Ruttura said, “Our production is a little grittier, a little bit more realistic, and a little more grounded than the original.”

At a press event Thursday, Ruttura and the Phantom himself, Cooper Grodin, sat down to share some inside scoop about the new tour. If you’ve always wondered why the Phantom is so driven to revenge, or how Christine copes while pulled in a tug-of-war between love and music, this production will help answer some of your questions.

“We sort of shy away from the Victorian melodrama and look into who these people actually are,” Ruttura says.

Those universal feelings of unrequited love, isolation and loneliness at the heart of Phantom’s story are one of the many reasons so many of us love Phantom. Ruttura knows many people, especially teenagers, identify with the characters’ struggles.  

“That’s something this production was really focused on, was finding those people, catering the storytelling to something they can relate to, and I think it’s been very successful,” he said.

Phantom’s original fans are sharing the show with younger audiences too. You’re not alone if your love for the show has spilled over to your children, friends and family members.

“One of the luxuries of being involved in such a successful production is that it has in fact been running so long that the children of the fans are here with their parents being exposed to it,” Grodin said, “and every night when I come out I’m really, really surprised to see just in fact how many young, really young, people really love the story.”

The storytelling isn’t the only aspect of Phantom that’s been given a fresh look. Ruttura says the tour’s set – including the legendary chandelier – is a “marvel of technology.”

“Our show has a tremendous amount of bells and whistles. We have tons of pyrotechnics, we have a chandelier that  – I won’t give away too much – but it has 28 years of new technology so it does all sorts of new tricks. It’s really exciting, it’s really fast – it’s explosive.”

The production is one of the largest national tours of a Broadway musical. We’re not exaggerating when we say it takes a mammoth amount of hard work to put this show together. Twenty trucks are used to move the show from city to city, and 75 additional local stagehands are hired to load in the set. A 10-ton scenic wall rotates around the stage, and the chandelier alone weighs 1 ton and contains 6,000 beads. About 100 talented cast and crew members make the show happen backstage each night.

All of that hard work is clearly paying off, and wowing Memphis audiences. Grodin says he received some of the most exciting feedback he’s ever gotten on opening night at The Orpheum.

“The audience was so engaged, they were so excited, they were so comfortable being heard – it really had an old-school feel, where theatre was a real profound give-and-take,” he said. “We have a very exciting ending and I can tell you that I had not even remotely finished my final note and the audience – they were screaming. And when that happens you are sort of reminded exactly why you do what you do.”

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre now through October 5. Get tickets here!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

President's Page: Penn & Teller Perform Friday

The famous Penn & Teller will perform on the historic Orpheum stage for the very first time tomorrow night, Friday, September 19th at 8:00 PM.  This engagement signifies a personal achievement for me - I have been working on bringing this fabulous duo to the Orpheum for quite a while. 
Master magicians and brilliant comedians, Penn & Teller are in high demand and therefore have a hectic schedule.  Their show has been a staple in Las Vegas for over 30 years, and each year their limited open dates are gobbled up by a long list of theatres on their waiting list.  I'm proud to say that our turn has finally come, and this is the day that I've have been waiting for!

Tomorrow night, audiences will experience a wondrous evening where comedy meets magic head on.  Penn & Teller have a talent for fooling you even while being refreshingly transparent about their craft.  Their unique take on performance is completely unlike anything audiences have seen on TV or from any other magicians.  Even so, we get a very small taste of Penn & Teller's original style on their shows "Fool Us" on the CW and "Wizard Wars" on SyFy, where they dissect illusions and put other up-and-coming magicians to the ultimate test.  

Don't miss this opportunity to experience a magical night at the Orpheum. There are still a few seats available, but they are disappearing fast.  Is this another trick from the famous duo?  Well, in a way, yes!
Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO
DATE: Friday, September 19, 2014  8:00 PM
TICKETS: $32.50 - $69.50
BOX OFFICE: 901.525.3000

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beyond the Stage: PHANTOM Phashion You Can't Live Without

Christine Daaé's Don Juan Triumphant Dress
Tomorrow, Friday September 12th, the Orpheum will open an exclusive, limited time exhibit of original costumes from The Phantom of the Opera at Carriage Crossing in Collierville, TN.  Not only is this exhibit FREE, it features original costumes and sketches by the late, great, Tony Winning designer Maria Bjornson

Her exquisite costumes arrived at the Orpheum last Friday, and we don't mind admitting that the entire staff was stunned!  These costumes beg to be seen up close.  Björnson's thoughtful designs are bursting with small details that you most likely won't be able to fully appreciate from the audience when you come to see the show.

If you've never heard of Maria Björnson, then you're most likely familiar with her credits.  Her work has been seen worldwide in shows like The Cherry Orchard, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, numerous Shakespeare productions, Hedda Gabler, and of course The Phantom of the Opera.  She's also designed extensively for opera and ballet in titles such as Sleeping Beauty, Carmen, and Don Giovanni.  As if that wasn't enough, Björnson's designs have been seen in some of the industry's most acclaimed theatres: Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre, Shaftesbury, The Globe, Prince of Wales Theatre, and the Royal Opera House, to name a few.

Impressed?  If not, it's ok because no matter how many notable credits or renowned venues she had under her belt, Björnson's work speaks for itself.  For example, pictured above is Christine Daaé's "Don Juan Triumphant" costume, which was inspired by Spanish folklore.  The elegant embroidery and brocade stomacher offer great contrast to the peach silk taffeta.  Also amazing are Björnson's sketches, which will be featured in the exhibit.  It's easy to tell that even in the early stages of her concepts, she was considering how the costumes needed to move, what they needed to say about the characters, and how they should compliment one another.

The Phantom's Suit
So whether you're a budding costumer, a Phantom fan, a Project Runway addict, or just plain curious, we invite you to stop by Carriage Crossing to experience this incredible limited time exhibit.  We look forward to seeing you there!

The Phantom of the Opera Costume Exhibit
Dates: September 12 - 21
Times: Monday - Saturday 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Carriage Crossing
                 4674 Merchants Park Cir., Suite 555
                 Collierville TN 38017
Admission: FREE

The Phantom of the Opera plays at the Orpheum Theatre September 24 - October 5.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

President's Page: Bringing PHANTOM to Memphis

"Music of the Night" Cooper Grodin as The Phantom and Julia Udine as Christine Daaé in
The Phantom of the Opera, US Tour.
The Phantom of the Opera always brings back wonderful memories.  I remember when I went to see Phantom when it first opened in New York back in 1988.  As I sat in the audience watching this brilliant show, I thought there was no way on earth Phantom would ever fit on the Orpheum stage and, therefore, would never be seen in Memphis.  I'm so glad I was wrong.

I was so proud to have been involved in the 1983 renovation that restored the Orpheum to its 1928 beauty, but this was another story entirely.  Watching Phantom, I had to ask myself: how do we stay relevant for the next generation of Broadway shows?  At the time, there was already talk of something called Miss Saigon and a stage adaptation of Sunset Boulevard.  So I came back to Memphis and started thinking about how I was going to explain to our Board of Directors that we needed to consider an expansion.  The cost would be incredible and would far exceed the capital campaign of the ’83 renovation by millions of dollars.  Fortunately, but the Board said yes (it must have been my charismatic ways).  If we needed an expansion to stay in the game, then it had to be done. 

So the planning and designing began... and so did the challenges.  Acoustic experts had to be brought in to determine how the theatre seats and the bigger stage would effect sound.  Engineers and contractors had to blow out the back wall to make way for a larger stage, more dressing rooms, a bigger orchestra pit and so on.  This was the scariest thing for me.  Really – what happens when you cut off one of the legs of a chair?  The chair falls over.  I envisioned the whole Orpheum just falling to the ground, reduced to a pile of historic rubble.  

Of course, that didn’t happen.  All the experts came through, and we were finally ready for Phantom!  In November of 1997 the show opened in Memphis to a very appreciative audience.  In fact, we had over 90,000 people see the first engagement, which lasted 5 weeks and 40 performances.  It was so successful the producers decided to return in 2001 for 32 performances. 

It has been over 13 years since The Phantom of the Opera has been to Memphis, and it will finally return to the Orpheum on September 24th for only 16 performances.  Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production features the same powerful orchestration, fabulous costumes, and iconic chandelier that has made the show such a classic but it also incorporates new technology, staging, and choreography that will keep you in awe from beginning to end. 

I know I can’t wait.  Will I see you there?  

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO