Theater Profile: Wharton Center
Michigan’s largest performing arts center offers diverse new season
Here’s a quick quiz for you: Name Michigan’s largest performing arts center.
If you answered anything but East Lansing’s Wharton Center, you’re wrong!
Located on the campus of Michigan State University, Wharton Center is mid-Michigan’s home for all genres of the performing arts. “We actually have four separate theaters,” explained Wharton’s Public Relations Manager Bob Hoffman. “There’s the Cobb Great Hall, the Passant Theatre, Fairchild Theatre and the MSU Concert Auditorium. Each year we have more than 50 different attractions and nearly 150 performances – and that doesn’t include all the rentals.”
Altogether, the four venues seat 7,440. It’s a luxury that gives administrators great latitude in scheduling presentations both large and small. It also helped get Wharton into the record books. “When ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was here the first time, it grossed more dollars and more seats sold than anywhere else in the country. Originally it was booked for four weeks, but it went on to eight weeks because of the demand,” Hoffman said.
It comes as no surprise, of course, that the Wharton’s Broadway Series is among the center’s most popular offerings. But such shows are only a fraction of what is found on the Wharton’s schedule each season. “We’re trying to represent all of the art forms you’re likely to see at a performing arts center in any other major city,” Mike Brand, Wharton’s executive director said. “We’re trying to be a little bit to everybody here, and become a real community resource through the variety of programming we do.”
In other words, diversity is – and will continue to be – the key to Wharton’s success.
“One of the things Mike really focused on putting together this coming year’s season is diversity and really bringing in some attractions that are new to this market,” explained Kent Love, Wharton’s director of communications.
With diversity such an important part of their mission, the center employs a manager of diversity and community outreach who, according Love, “goes into some of the underserved market segments like the student population and encourages attendance and creates exposure and awareness. I don’t think a lot of venues have that position on staff.”
Another market that’s getting attention is the area’s Latino community. “We’re going to have our first Spanish production – in Spanish. I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve never been a part of an organization that did a foreign language presentation,” Brand said.
A quick peek at the 2005/06 schedule not only reveals a season that is packed with dance, jazz, classical, opera and pop music presentations – plus its Broadway and Family Series – it also proves that Brand takes his philosophy seriously. In particular, he has high expectations that new programs that celebrate world music and Hispanic culture will be popular. “It is so important that when we bring in great artists from India, China and Africa that people come to experience that great world of art.”
Ever mindful that his center is on the campus of a major state university, education also plays a major role in Brand’s programming decisions. “We’re doing some very unique things here,” he said, “like our Jazz at Wharton Center, which is a partnership with the School of Jazz Studies here at Michigan State. We’re creating education programs and various offerings on the main stages with the School of Music’s faculty and some of the student groups in addition to their own concerts.”
The upcoming season will also see the beginnings of some beautiful new relationships take root. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra, for example, will be part of the season, and the Michigan Opera Theatre will transfer its complete production of “La Boheme” to the Wharton for a performance this November. And the year after that? Brand hinted that the Detroit Opera House will bring a number of major dance companies to the Wharton. “It’s pretty exciting, because the opera company there is a really well-regarded company in the United States.”
All of their hard work seems to be paying off – and the season hasn’t even started yet. Subscription sales seem to be up, and Love expects to see new faces in the seats from all around the state, as well as from northern Indiana and Ohio. “Our location is a key asset for us. Being centrally located, we can reach beyond the tri-county, mid-Michigan market.
With plenty of variety to choose from, this can’t help but become one of Wharton Center’s best seasons ever!
Subscriptions to Wharton Center’s upcoming 2005/06 season are now available; single ticket sales begin this August. Individual tickets for the Broadway Series go on sale six-to-eight weeks prior to each show. Ticket information can be obtained by calling the box office at 517-432-2000. For schedule information – or to sign up for the E-Club e-mail notification system – log on to http://www.whartoncenter.com.
Tidbits: Theater News from Around Town
Wilde balloting ends June 30; summer schedule for Curtain Calls
ITEM: Don’t forget, theater-lovers: Balloting for the 2005 Wilde Awards continues through June 30. Ballots postmarked or date-stamped after that date will not be counted.
With the number of ballots submitted during the first two weeks of June approaching record levels, it is expected that 2005 will be the most exciting year yet!
To vote for your favorite professional production of the 2004/05 season, click here.
And don’t forget: The Wilde Awards ceremony has been moved to Thursday, September 1 at Detroit’s Gem Theatre! Will we see you there? (Full details will be announced soon!)
ITEM: With summer now underway – and theater productions few and far between – Curtain Calls will be reduced to one page throughout much of the summer. The most comprehensive theater coverage in town will return to its full glory the first week of September.
And when it does, will a new and improved look be part of the package?