On first glance, last weekend’s concerts by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra looked like a spectacular – but not particularly unusual – tribute to American movie music master, John Williams, with familiar music from throughout Williams’ storied career.
When we took a second look at the media release, though, we realized that the CPO had organized more than your usual night at the pops.
What was different?
Concert goers could take part in both pre-concert AND post-concert talks – and the Jack Singer Concert Hall lobby would be taken over by displays of “all things John Williams” and such special guests as “Storm Troopers from the Badlands Garrison, an all-volunteer group of Star Wars enthusiasts of all ages who make their own professional-grade costumes…the local representative of the 501st Legion, a worldwide Star Wars organization run by fans that is Lucasfilm’s preferred Imperial costuming group”.
The event comes on the heels of last year’s CPO Star Trek concerts, events that included a lobby appearance by the citizens of Vulcan, AB, selling Spock ears to eager concert patrons. We decided we had to know more, so we contacted CPO publicist Sheryl Ratcliff and Marketing and Sales Director Marylou Bennetts to pose a few questions. Here’s what we learned.
What is it with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, your patrons, and inter-galactic adventures? Do I detect a theme?
Yes there is a theme… we love to be able to present concerts that appeal to a wide demographic. It helps to break down the barriers and provides a great entry point to the Orchestra. People feel comfortable coming to a concert where they know the music and we get a lot of feedback about how they are just blown away by hearing the music they love performed live with Orchestra.
More than just inter-galactic adventures, we strive to provide a “whole experience” for our audiences from the pre-show activities in the lobby right into the concert hall. We partner with a variety of organizations in our community including break-dancers and circus performers at our POPS concerts to animals from the Calgary Zoo and astronomers from the Science Centre at some of our Classics concerts. We even have a few themed post concert parties throughout the Season. These activities enhance our concert offerings for our patrons and they also provide us with a great opportunity to gain exposure to a potentially new patron base. The media are also interested in being able to talk about what is going on with the Orchestra in new ways.
Are you attracting new audiences with these initiatives? What proportion are first time patrons? Do you have specific initiatives in place to extend your relationship with them?
We definitely see an upswing of new faces in the concert hall when we perform shows like this. Over 20% of our ticket buyers for this weekends’ concert (Movie Masterpieces: The Classics of John Williams) are first timers. We strive to keep these new patrons engaged with the CPO after their initial concert experience. One way we do this is to add them to our email database and send them updates on shows that may be of similar interest to them in the future. We know that once they hear the Orchestra, they’ll be hooked, it’s just a matter of keeping the CPO top of mind as an entertainment choice.
What’s the difference between the content of your pre-concert talks and your post-concert Afterthoughts programs?
Our pre-concert chats are primarily geared towards our Classics Series concerts. Patrons can learn more about what to listen for and the historical context of the music. Afterthoughts, on the other hand, is a way for our audience to interact with our musicians, soloists and conductors and ask questions and give feedback about the performance itself. By involving our CPO musicians it gives the audiences a chance to get to know them as people beyond the performance they see on stage. Our Destination and Serenade Series feature student music ensembles performing pre-show in the lobby. This is a great opportunity to highlight the future talent and nurture on-going relationships with the many different music programs in our city.
Did the Badlands Garrison approach you, or did you approach them? How did you find out about them? Are they excited to be involved?
We have partnered with the Badlands Garrison several times in the past few years at different movie-themed concerts. We are always looking for people and groups that will enhance our audience’s experience. Calgary and the surrounding area have a lot of avid sci-fi fans who hold tradeshows and other events and we have been able to partner with them for mutually beneficial cross promotions. Of course everyone is always excited to be involved in events like this. We have had Halo soldiers at our Video Game concerts, elves and hobbits at our Lord of the Rings show and many, many sci-fi characters at our Star Trek performance – even our Director of Finance is dressing as Darth Vader to accompany the Storm Troopers at this weekend’s show. We encourage people to come in costume whenever possible!
What’s in the plans for next year? (and it’s okay if you can’t say just yet…)
While our plans for next year are still under wraps it is safe to say that our audiences can expect another season of classical giants, rock ‘n’ roll hits, family favourites, pop culture blockbusters and lobby excitement!
Our thanks to Marylou for answering our questions, and to Sheryl for providing pictures.