More than just advertising shows and waiting for tickets to sell, there’s a secret to filling seats at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, says Director Rodney Rock.
Cultivate audience members when they’re young.
“When children come to a show, they learn what it’s like to visit a theater and about concert etiquette, what they should and shouldn’t do during a performance,” Rock says. “Children’s programming, in general, not only is beneficial from an entertainment point of view, but it’s audience development and that’s a really important component of what we offer.”
The Jorgensen used to present six family programming weekends annually with up to six performances each of those weekends, he says. The crowded theater would come to life as little boys and girls brimmed with excitement to see their favorite characters in person and sing along to their favorite songs.
That energy was lost to the pandemic – until now.
Once again, wide-eyed children are welcomed back to the Jorgensen for a trio of shows this spring, beginning Sunday with “Llama Llama Red Pajama Live!”
“This is what we’re most excited about for the spring, getting back to family programming and welcoming back young audiences,” Rock says. “It was important to us to make the leap.”
While some venues around the country are reporting a robust return of family audiences, others elsewhere say interest is tepid. Rock says he decided the time was right for Jorgensen, and the volume of ticket sales prove that true.
“Overall, I have a sense that we’re moving forward past the impact of COVID,” Rock says. “Ticket income just from the fall is over projections and audience numbers already have doubled from the whole of last year. We even had a few sold-out events in the fall.”
Rock says he expects some adult programming this spring to sell out as well, starting with comedian Jo Koy World Tour on Feb. 18, which now only has a few tickets remaining.
British guitarist and singer-songwriter Joanne Shaw Taylor on Feb. 17 – she sounds a little like Bonnie Raitt – and NBC’s “The Voice” winner Girl Named Tom on April 14 – the trio opened for Pentatonix in December at Mohegan Sun – also are expected to bring in big crowds.
For the eighth time, the Japanese drumming group Kodo will appear at Jorgensen, Rock says, for what he describes as a “kinetic experience because the whole building vibrates.” The group has a strong following of fans, who’ve already been buying up tickets for the group’s March 9 performance.
“They bring the right message to us now,” Rock says of Kodo. “For years they’ve toured under the banner of ‘one world,’ and they want to use their art to reinforce the concept that regardless of what your religious or ethnic background is, we’re all humans and we’re all on this one planet. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment.”
It’s a sensibility that Rock tried to cultivate in the fall with the inclusion of DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian musical quartet, and in the spring with the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine on Feb. 13.
Rock says that when the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, he began hearing stories about artists who were impacted by the Russian invasion and many of whom were fleeing the country. He made a commitment then to bring as many Ukrainian artists to Jorgensen as he could.
“It’s our way of making a little contribution to the plight of those people,” he says.
The Lviv Philharmonic will perform in Storrs about two weeks before the war’s first anniversary and will feature soloist Solomiya Ivakhiv, associate professor of violin and viola in UConn’s School of Fine Arts and its coordinator of strings, in Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26. She traveled to Ukraine over the holidays to rehearse with the full orchestra, Rock says.
To start the evening, the Lviv Philharmonic will perform Chamber Symphony No. 3 for Flute and String Orchestra from Ukrainian composer Yevhen Stankovych and will end the night with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.
The performance also may include artwork from a traveling exhibition from the Ukrainian government that has documented the ravages of the war, Rock says. To augment the Lviv Philharmonic, he’s hoping to display six or eight of the exhibition’s images on easels in Martha’s Foyer at the back of the performance hall.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the Jorgensen Gallery, the Connecticut Women Artists will have its 2023 Council Show on display through March 11 with artwork from 15 women artists from throughout the state. The show’s opening reception is Feb. 2.
“This spring, you’ll see a typical Jorgensen season. There’s cultural and artistic diversity,” Rock says. “We have some fine ensembles from Europe that’ll be performing in the Lenard Chamber series. We have a wonderful ballet company from Philadelphia, BalletX. And we have the return of family programming. Audiences are coming back, and all of this is exciting.”
Visit the Jorgensen’s website for a season schedule and to buy tickets.