Rockin’ the 80s

May 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I think of the 80’s, I think of the music. Sure, the big hair and fluorescent fashion, but mostly the music. Here’s why.

Picture it. Spring. 1987.

I volunteered to be in charge of music for our 6th grade dance. It was a natural fit since I loved to listen to music while dancing around in front of my mirror. Plus, I had a boom box with two tape decks, so I could make an awesome mix tape. Each day I turned the radio to my favorite channel, popped in a blank cassette tape and caught the bus to school. When I got home I sat with pen and paper and wrote down the songs I wanted to use, approximately where they were on the tape, and if they were on side A or side B. Once I had my list of songs, I had to carefully choose the song order for my mix tape. I spent countless hours going back to the original tapes, finding the songs, and recording them in the proper order for my mix tapes. I am fairly positive that the tapes included songs by Madonna, Janet Jackson, Genesis, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, George Michael and Cyndi Lauper.

When the night of the dance arrived I dressed in a long, jean skirt, a button down blouse with squiggly, multi-colored squares (borrowed from my mom’s closet), and pastel colored sneakers. I topped it off with a turquoise belt that formed a “v” around my waist. After a good amount of Aqua Net hairspray, I was super-stylish and ready to go.

I don’t remember much about the dance other than where the boom-box was located. I mostly remember anxiously awaiting each song and watching my classmates reactions, hoping they liked my mix tape.

To me, Rock of Ages is like an 80’s mix tape. Set in 1987, it has some of the best rock songs of the 80’s – songs by Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Styx and more. When I hear songs like “Anyway You Want It” and ”Sister Christian” I am transported back in time. I remember where I was, what I was doing and how I felt. I have no doubt that I will be smiling the entire time during this show. And just like my 6th grade dance, I will be anxiously awaiting each song.

Mix tapes are just like iPod mixes, but a lot more time consuming to create. If someone made you a mix tape, you knew they had put countless hours of work and thought into it. It meant they really cared about you. For us, Rock of Ages is ACA’s mix tape for you, and we hope you enjoy it.

What songs are on your 80’s mix tape?

– ACA Education & Outreach Director, Erynn Smith


Planning a new season

May 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Here it is May, the sun is shining, and the Anchorage Concert Association has finally gotten another season out the door. I’m not sure, but I think the 2012-2013 season is our 62nd or so.

Since the season has launched, I’ve had questions about why this and why that.

Why isn’t there any dance?

THOSE are the Broadway shows?

All these comments boil down to the most common question I get about programming a season. “How do you choose what you choose?”

Season programming is the ultimate balancing act. You have to balance who and what is currently touring and available against open dates at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. We like to try to balance what we do against what other local groups are doing. For instance, if Alaska Dance Theatre is going to have a performance on one weekend, we try not to put an ACA dance concert on a weekend in close proximity.

Then you have to find those artists who are willing to travel to Alaska. I would say the biggest misconception about getting artists to come to Alaska is that EVERYONE wants to come to Alaska. This is, in fact, not the case. For every artist or group who does want to come here, there are two or three others who do not. Oddly enough, some artists are afraid to fly and only do dates to which they can drive. Others don’t want to come to Alaska in the winter, which is when ACA is doing its work. I get a lot of, “Isn’t the weather tricky that time of year?”

Additionally, because of the distance and time it takes to get to Alaska, most artists want to have more than just one gig in Anchorage. I then talk to presenters of performing arts in all parts of the state trying to find additional venues. Sometimes this isn’t possible, and I’m put in the position of either paying a higher fee or not getting the artist.

Even after all this gets ironed out, there is still the potential that an artist might get a larger tour in another part of the world. I am currently dealing with just such an issue with one of the artists we booked for the 12-13 season. He has a single date with us, but a larger tour overseas has come up that will be much more lucrative. The good news, is once an artist commits to coming here, they want to make it happen no matter what.

Broadway dates are even trickier. A Broadway company usually travels with four to six 54-foot semi trailers and about 60-80 cast and crew. Moving that many people and that much equipment gets very expensive. Broadway shows are out on the road for as few as 13 weeks or as many as 26 weeks at a time. They tour like this without breaks in between so they can earn as much money as possible. Coming to Alaska means that the companies have to layoff at least a week to get to and from Alaska. This is sometimes not financially feasible for a touring company.

When you look at the big picture, it’s amazing to think that anyone gets up here to begin with. Getting the season nailed down is one of the most stressful things we do, but it is also one of the most satisfying things we do. We love to hear how excited people get about the upcoming slate of events. Standing in the lobby at the first show after we announce the season is the ultimate litmus test for how we did. At the end of the day, our primary goal is to find and deliver a wide variety of performing art forms with our 20-25 events that entertain and inspire Alaskans. While we hope that everyone will love each and every program, we know this isn’t possible from season to season. While one season may not resonate with you, chances are the next year will.

What shows are you looking forward to? Is there genre of performing arts you’d like to see more of in Alaska?

– ACA Executive Director, Jason Hodges

Good looking, great sounding

April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like any married couple, I share a lot of what happens at my work with my wife. This time of year, I like getting her reaction to artists we are discussing considering in the next season. When I told her last year we were thinking of bringing Chris Botti back to Anchorage, she turned and smiled at me. His albums had become regular soundtracks to evenings in our house after we saw him here in Anchorage in 2009 so I knew she would be excited. But she got really excited. Like REALLY excited. “Oh he is so handsome. You should do your hair like his.” On and on she went as we drove into work.

I have no problem admitting it; the man is handsome. The New York Times called Botti “a modern-day jazz heartthrob.” He was listed in People Magazine’s “Most Beautiful” for goodness sake! His critical acclaim has been matched by enormous popularity, but Botti, pronounced “boat-tee,” didn’t get by on good looks alone. Like most top musicians, he paid his dues to get to the top of his genre, offering himself as a studio musician for years before being picked by Paul Simon and later Sting to play live.

His ongoing association with PBS (he has two live specials) catapulted him to four No. 1 jazz albums, as well as multiple gold, platinum and Grammy awards. His unique style, a mixture of blues, funk, pop and rock is often compared with “smooth jazz” that appeared in the 1950-70s American music scene. That versatile style has allowed him to collaborate with varied musical luminaries, from classical greats such as Yo-Yo Ma and opera powerhouse Andrea Bocelli to pop artists like Josh Groban.

Marketing for a Chris Botti show is relatively easy; just put his picture in front of people! His last show in Anchorage sold out the Atwood Concert Hall, perhaps because a large photo of him was on the cover of the PLAY section in the Anchorage Daily News. But after I left the performance, I understood why he has become one of the world’s best-selling jazz instrumentalists; he lets his horn do the talking. The secret of a Chris Botti show is in the pure warmth and graceful beauty of his trumpet. He makes you stare in awe because of his mastery of the music, not because he is easy on the eyes. Though according to my wife, that doesn’t hurt either.

Did you see Chris Botti last time in Anchorage? Seen him somewhere else? Are you a jazz fan or just a Chris Botti fan?

– ACA Marketing Director, Jason Grenn

Music in our schools

March 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

This past Monday, the Anchorage School Board passed a resolution recognizing March as “Music in our Schools Month.” What a great idea! Most of us understand that kids who study music tend to excel in other forms of study such as math, science and social studies.

KTUU Channel 2 posted the following statistics regarding music in the Anchorage School District…

The district said 91 percent of sixth graders, or about 2,300 students, take either band or orchestra. But participation in music classes falls with age: in middle school, 48 percent of students participate in either band, orchestra or choir, and those figures become 15 to 16 percent in high school.

Next week, Anchorage Concert Association is presenting Imani Winds, a Grammy nominated wind ensemble. Imani Winds knows the importance of music education. They offer several different programs for youth based on grade levels, teach master classes at the high school and college level, and present informal community concerts in churches, libraries and senior citizen centers to educate adults of all ages. In addition, this year marks the third year for the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival. This 10 day festival takes place in New York City and advanced and professional musicians/ensembles from all across the country and abroad are mentored by Imani Winds.

Based on the percentages listed above, I am very pleased that we are able to take Imani Winds to perform at two high schools while they are in Anchorage. Almost 1200 students from Bartlett and East will get the chance to see the group perform live. Not all 1200 students are music students, which makes the visits even more special. Even if you don’t play an instrument, you can always learn to appreciate different types of music and the people that play and write that music.

I was not familiar with the music of Imani Winds until recently. However, after watching many videos of them on YouTube and listening to them in interviews, I have a deep appreciation and admiration for the individual group members, the group itself and their music. I do not play a musical instrument. I don’t know a ton about classical music. But, it is easy for me to see that they are passionate about their art, and I enjoy listening to their music and watching them play. It makes me more curious about the instruments themselves and the people who are playing them. I am more then excited to see them perform at the high schools next week.

Were you a musician in school? Did you get a chance to watch musicians while growing up?

An ancient Chinese art? Really?

February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

As a young boy, I always found enjoyment in the place mats at Chinese restaurants that featured the animals associated with Chinese New Year. I was fascinated that every person has personality and character traits that are the same as their animal birth sign. (I’m a Rooster by the way.) Soon, I found myself wanting to know more and more about the far away land and its people and culture. China seemed liked a country that was so exotic compared to living in Alaska that I loved learning about its traditions and history.

Acrobatics is a treasured jewel of traditional Chinese performing arts with a long and rich heritage. The art has been existent in China for more than two thousand years. By the time of the Han Dynasty (221 BC-220 AD), acrobatic art further developed both in content and variety. In the Tang Dynasty, the number of acrobats greatly increased and their performing skills improved a great deal. Today, over 100 troupes, large and small, perform all over the country. That’s what makes me so excited that we’re presenting the New Shanghai Circus this weekend. Along with the cultural aspects, the Chinese acrobats put on a show that incorporates a blend of traditional Chinese dance, dynamic modern stunts and many more extraordinary acts that will hold eyes captive and redefine what’s possible for humans to do.

The troupe is made up of the best of the best acrobatic stars, and the majority of these performers began mastering their craft as young children in the Chinese acrobat schools. The now-traveling troupe has put together an impressive line-up of contortionists, jugglers and other high-flying acts that possess a cultural flare varying from traditional to contemporary.

For several years, the acrobats have found a home in Branson, Mo., where their trademark show has won numerous art awards, including Best Show in 1999, a golden key from the city’s mayor and the Peace Award for the group’s contributions to world peace through the arts. The group also earned a special mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for winning more national gold, silver and bronze medals than any other acrobatic troupe.

I encourage you to check out these astonishing athletes that defy gravity and execute breathtaking feats of human ability. After you see the show, I expect you’ll want to find out what your Chinese birth animal is as well.

– ACA Marketing Director, Jason Grenn

The arts mean business

February 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Here at Anchorage Concert Association our mission is to inspire and entertain Alaskans through the performing arts. We like to think we are able to do that each time we present a show, but there is another impact that is less visible but almost as important; the economic impact the performing arts have on our community.

Think about your theatre going experience. Outside of buying a ticket, there are other items you might have to purchase to fully enjoy your time out on the town; a babysitter, parking passes, etc. And most people either grab dinner before the show or treat themselves to drinks or desserts afterward. In fact, in our latest survey, over 90% of our patrons will at least “sometimes” engage in that extra type of activity around an event.

A 2005 study from “Americans for the Arts” tells us that the average person will spend $25.18 outside of the price of the ticket. Does that figure sound close to what you spend? So what does that tell us about the economic impact ACA makes to Anchorage?

ACA had 80,404 attendees in FY11. If each attendee spent $25.18, that means that our patrons helped contribute $2.02 million to our local economy. If we add ACA’s expenses (staff salaries, stage rental, school bus rentals, etc.) of $5.12 million, it equals $7.14 million that is pumped into Anchorage businesses.

To look at it on smaller scale, let’s look at what happened during Beauty and the Beast just this January. Last month, from January 12-21, over 25,000 people came downtown during a traditionally slow time of year for restaurants; after the holidays and before Fur Rondy. If we use that magic amount of $25.18, it equals $629,500. That’s a lot of dough during a cold snap that might have kept people from coming downtown and spending those extra dollars!

From major metropolitan areas to small rural towns, research shows that the nonprofit arts are an economically sound investment. They attract audiences, spur business development, support jobs, and generate government revenue. Locally as well as nationally, the arts mean business.

Next time you come to an ACA show, it’s okay to feel proud of yourself while you sit back, relax and enjoy the show. You’re helping make our economy strong and diverse.

A group from Washington D.C. actually TRYING to make us laugh

February 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Instead of watching the Nevada caucus results on CNN this weekend, why not laugh at Obama singing or Gingrich dancing ballet? The Capitol Steps last visited Anchorage just after the Presidential Inauguration in 2009. This time, their visit comes as we gear up for the pinnacle of the intense Primary season and playing at the Atwood for two shows this Friday and Saturday.

So what makes the group so popular, especially during election season? “The world’s going crazy, you’ve gotta laugh,” said Elaina Newport in a recent interview with the Juneau Empire. Newport is one of the co-founders of the group and a co-author of the material the group performs on stage. So basically, when political news becomes excruciating, that is exactly when people need to laugh the most. And politicians are a ripe target.

“People like to see the high and mighty taken down a peg,” she said. “They need a laugh; otherwise you can just get depressed watching the news.”

The Capitol Steps were created in December 1981 when some staffers for Senator Charles Percy were planning entertainment for a Christmas party. Their first idea was “to stage a nativity play, but in the whole Congress they couldn’t find three wise men or a virgin.” (Yuk yuk.) So, they decided to dig into the headlines of the day, and they created song parodies & skits which conveyed a special brand of satirical humor.

And although it’s no longer a per-requisite for the current members of the Steps to be former Capitol Hill staffers, taken together the performers have worked in a total of eighteen Congressional offices and represent 62 years of collective House and Senate staff experience.

The Capitol Steps “watch political races hoping for the best outcome for comedians, not necessarily what’s best for America,” Newport said with a laugh. Many of her hopes for material in 2012 and beyond have already been dashed, with the ideal comedy ticket of Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann both bowing out of the GOP presidential primaries, along with Rick Perry. The name Perry, Newport points out, “is a name that rhymes with a lot.”

Newport said the show is kept on a PG-13 cleanliness level, sans four-letter words but with some references to scandals that might turn someone a pale shade of blue. “We’re as clean as the politicians,” Newport quipped.

Have you seen the Capitol Steps before? What’s your favorite song/skit? Should they come to Anchorage during the next Presidential election?

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