Tweet from your seat

Tweet from your seat

How Dayton arts organizations are attracting the net generation

By Jennifer Hanauer

Tenor Marcello Giordani, as Lt. Pinkerton in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Madame Butterfly,’ is headlining Dayton Opera’s Star Gala.

Tenor Marcello Giordani, as Lt. Pinkerton in The Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Madame Butterfly,’ is headlining Dayton Opera’s Star Gala.

At one point while researching this story, I found myself texting, tweeting, Facebooking, emailing and Googling. I was doing so rather clumsily, but yes, I had all of my social media plates spinning precariously above my head at one time. I do know some people, unlike myself, who do it all flawlessly, moving seamlessly from social network to social network like a butterfly amongst so many heliotropes. And they can do it while driving. Such talent! While I may not exactly be amongst the supremely gifted multi-tasking hordes of the next generation, it is obvious to me how intimately entwined Generation Y is with social networking. Our Dayton arts organizations have observed this as well and are working industriously to attract this media-hungry age group.

The Dayton Art Institute (DAI) has long been drawing in widely diverse crowds by offering age-appropriate programs starting with art camps for pre-schoolers on up to classes and workshops for art enthusiasts in their twilight years. But it’s that mid-age range, that post-high school, young professional circle that arts organizations want to grab hold of.
“We’re all after that holy grail, that 18 to 35 age range we [marketers] all strive to connect with,” said Eric Brockman, DAI’s marketing and communications manager. “We’re actively embracing technology within the museum.”

DAI was recently awarded a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to develop their What Is a Masterpiece? program. Part of the goal is to have the entire building wired for Wi-Fi and have visitors go on a self-guided tour with their smart phone, scanning QR codes to gain more information about works of art. This will make the masterpieces part of a dialogue with guests, as opposed to a monologue.

“We want the arts to be interactive, participatory,” said Brockman.

To build buzz about exhibitions using other hot media, Brockman has been holding special previews and inviting active social media users who may Twitter about the exhibits. This strategy has not only created murmurs of excitement, but has furthered the discussion that Brockman hopes art can be.

“Twitter is more about a conversation,” said Brockman, “and that’s what we’re hoping to start.”

Dayton Opera (DO) Marketing and Communications Director Chuck Duritsch knows just how influential Twitter is with Generation Y, and just how addicted they are to it. This is why Duritsch, with DO’s board of trustees behind him, will be rolling out Friday Night Tweet Seats. This special balcony seating, where phone use will be encouraged, will be marketed and sold to Dayton’s young professionals at a discounted rate ($15 as opposed to the regular $65).

“I’m either going to lose my job or get a raise,” joked Duritsch of his innovative marketing plan.

The point of the strategy is to open opera up to a younger, non-conventional audience.

“We want to change the reputation, change the face of opera,” said Duritsch. “Younger people think, ‘Oh, that’s for Grandma.’ But that’s not the case. Opera truly is fun. See what it’s about. Give it a try.”

Duritsch isn’t blind to the disturbance this may cause among the more conservative bevy of opera-goers.

“I do anticipate some hesitation,” said Duritsch. “That’s why I blocked off the balcony for Tweet Seats. It won’t disturb the traditional opera-goer seated elsewhere in the theatre.”
And Duritsch expects the conversation to be going on between more than just the Tweet Seat patrons and their friends. Of the director, conductor and cast, Duritsch said, “I will encourage them to tweet when they’re not on stage!”

Russian soprano Inna Dukach, who will be performing the roll of Mimi in the DO’s La Bohème this October, is excited for Duritsch’s forward-looking plan for catching the next generation of opera-goers.

“While we performers love the current generation of opera audiences, our treasured art form will surely perish unless we hook younger crowds. Toward that end, Dayton Opera’s use of social media to attract younger people is a brilliant strategy,” said Dukach. “Facebook, Twitter, Skype and texting are how my generation communicates. Even my husband and I don’t speak; we text, as it’s more efficient,” she laughed. “That being said, I still hope that people in the ‘tweet seats’ at my performances of La Bohème will do themselves a favor and put their phones on vibrate if not airplane mode. The end of Puccini’s opera is so tragically beautiful that any texter risks the embarrassment of his tear-stained face being illuminated for all to see.”

Demonstrating that traditionalists exist on both sides of the generation gap, recent Stivers School for the Arts graduate and matriculating Tulane University student Marilyn Head agrees about the engrossing nature of art; she disagrees that the performance hall is an appropriate place to use your mobile device.

“I would not be more inclined to go see an opera because I could use my cell phone,” said Head. “I love going to shows because I like to be entertained and engaged in what is happening on stage. I like to put my cell phone away and focus on the art that is happening. I hate to see people on their phones during performances because I find it disrespectful to the performers, so honestly I say keep the ‘turn off all cell phones’ rule.”

Etiquette aside, Duritsch is still offering a great deal to young professionals when tight spending might otherwise keep those of us budget-minded individuals at home.

“I think it is great that the Dayton Opera is offering young professionals an opportunity to experience a performance affordably,” said Ken Winther, 24-year-old Think Patented business developer from Beavercreek. “And hey, if you can tweet about it, even better!”

Winther plans to take his girlfriend to see Romeo and Juliet in February, but said he better leave the cell phone off so as not to detract from the romance of the evening.

To plan a date with your special someone, or just to take in some culture and explore Dayton’s vibrant art community, visit www.daytonartinstitute.org and www.daytonopera.org for more information. Follow both organizations on Twitter @DaytonArt and @DaytonOpera.

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer at jenniferhanauer@daytoncitypaper.com

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