UApresents, the Construction of a Season
UApresents, the UA's professional performing arts presenter, has for the last 75 years managed an extensive annual calendar of events drawing talent from around the world.
UApresents' new season just opened at the end of September, and Chuck Tennes, the organization's executive director, already has meetings and conferences scheduled through the end of spring 2014 to book dates with artists.
“The research and negotiations proceed at a leisurely pace right now, but January will be the start of crunch time," said Tennes, who heads up the University of Arizona's professional performing arts organization. "By then, we need to make decisions. The pressure is on."
"In March, every detail must be in place," Tennes said, adding that, in April, UApresents publishes its annual brochure and starts its marketing efforts for the following season.
But what does it take to build a solid season for UApresents?
Tennes and the UApresents team began programming for the 2013-14 season during the summer.
Tennes and other members of the UApresents staff are in constant conversation with booking agencies and managers from Los Angeles to New York, learning about the companies and artists that are touring and what projects they have under way.
UApresents has representation at some of the major professional performing arts conferences in the country, including the Western Arts Alliance and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York. At those conferences, Tennes and others attend sneak-peak events and begin booking negotiations, which can go back and forth for several months.
"It's a year-long cycle, and every time someone mentions an artist of interest, I put it in Microsoft Notes," said Tennes, briefly flashing his private, proprietary notes on suggestions for names for the next season and beyond. He cannot say just yet who is being seriously considered.
"Many of these events will fall off the calendar for one reason or another. Negotiations with artist managements sometimes fail, and we don’t want to create expectations that could lead to disappointment," Tennes said.
"We're always looking for the world's greatest; we're always looking for quality," Tennes affirmed about the organization, which runs a multi-million dollar budget with revenue generated primarily from ticket sales and fundraising efforts.
In planning a season, Tennes noted that most everything the staff does is about balance: balancing classical with contemporary shows; high-ticket items with more reasonably priced shows; well-established performers with new and emerging artists. All of this is done within the context of furthering UApresents’ educational mission.
Although it has been known by different names, the presenting program began in 1937.
UApresents has presented nationally and internationally known performers, speakers and politicians. Among them are shows such as "Wicked" and "Les Misérables;" speakers and performers such as David Sedaris, k.d.lang, Yo-Yo Ma and Liza Minnelli; and also political figures such as U.S. President John F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
Likewise, UApresents must draw the balance between shows for adult audience members and youth and has a substantial outreach focus, offering programs specifically geared toward students and families.
"Education is at the heart of UApresents – it’s part of our mission," said Darsen Campbell, the marketing and publicity manager for UApresents, who noted that the organization's outreach programs reach nearly 15,000 people annually.
In effect, UApresents does not merely draw audiences, but also works within the community, providing ticket donations and hosting free programs and events at K-12 schools.
While much of the internal work of the UApresents staff is ongoing, the organization's success also is continent upon established collaborations around campus and regionally.
"It's not easy to get to Tucson," Tennes said, noting that direct flights are sometimes hard to come by, at times creating challenges when UApresents is trying to set its calendar.
To counterbalance that challenge, the staff coordinates with other regional organizations that have already booked specific artists. If UApresents is interested in bringing an artist to Tucson, the staff will often consult with colleagues in Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles to put together a mini tour to help attract an artist to the region, and whenever possible, save costs for UApresents, Carsen said.
For example, one collaboration that is new this year is the Tucson Desert Song Festival, which is sponsoring Nathan Gunn's performance at UA's Crowder Hall.
"The opportunity to experience a great artist like Nathan Gunn in a more intimate venue like Crowder Hall is made possible by this sponsorship," said Jo Alenson, director of marketing for UApresents. "Some artists are just better suited for a smaller venue. We like to match the artist to the venue where we can."
The staff must be sharply attuned to what is happen in the world of performing arts, and flexible enough to rely on both established and newly forming networks of communication and organizing. Once a schedule is set, UApresents staff must then coordinate equipment, on-site crews and a marketing and communications plan for each of the shows.
"The trick is that we have to be very nimble. Everyone must be today," Alenson said.
In organizing a season, UApresents also relies quite heavily on the advice of its advisory board, of which UA Regents' Professor John G. Hildebrand is a member.
"My personal expertise and interest are focused on classical music, and I have emphasized advocacy for and advising on that part of the portfolio throughout my service on the board," said Hildebrand, head of the neuroscience department.
"In particular, I advocate for UApresents to find ways to be an important part of the life of the University and especially to reach students," Hildebrand said.
Likewise, UApresents often tries to negotiate with artists to engage in outreach to Tucson area schools, or hold master classes with UA students and faculty.
"The organization invests a lot of time in researching artists and their recent performances, reviewing available marketing tools and developing and analyzing sales projections to ensure the artists make good business sense," Alenson said.
"We really need to be everywhere," she added. "There are so many ways to do that, and that's the fun of it – finding and trying out new things."