Already well into its 23rd year, Springfield’s Sangamon Auditorium has plenty of surprises for audience members this season, said Sangamon Auditorium Director Sue Linn. "Audiences can expect to see two unique Broadway musicals, Contact and Full Monty. Each is unique in its own way. Contact was the 2000 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, and it was the first show to win the award for Best Musical without featuring any live vocal music. It’s fresh and innovative. Full Monty is unique because it’s succeeded in translating a film script to a Broadway musical format without compromising the essence of the story. It’s as fun and moving as the original film."
Another Broadway tribute comes in the form of Debbie Reynolds, who appears on stage in May. "We’re very happy to be bringing her to central Illinois. Many audience members will remember her work in films like Singin’ in the Rain. They’ll also recognize her from her recent appearances as Grace’s mom on the TV show Will and Grace," Linn said.
Other unique offerings include author and humorist David Sedaris and the Four Bitchin’ Babes. "David is well known to public radio listeners and frequently featured on This American Life. The Babes feature four gifted performers who each have individual performing careers. They come together periodically to share their collective views on being wives, moms, and women," she said.
Events intended for the whole family are also included on the schedule. "I’m very happy to have the opportunity to offer a family series this season. The series includes Very Eric Carle, Bunnicula, "The National Acrobats of Taiwan," and "Scrap Arts." The programs were selected and priced to appeal to families with very young children and older children. The auditorium staff wants to create a tradition of family attendance at auditorium events. We think this is a good way to begin that tradition," Linn said.
Many of the family events are part of the Class Acts series, now in its 19th season at Sangamon Auditorium. "Through the Class Acts youth performing arts series, the auditorium has introduced more than 350,000 young people to the excitement and stimulation of quality cultural and educational programming designed for students from kindergarten through high school," said Angela Griffin, ad/media sales coordinator. "The series was started with the goal to present a diverse performing arts program for youth in support of K-12 educational and cultural goals as mandated by the State of Illinois. With this goal in mind, all events provide a tie-in with the Illinois Learning Standards goals in the fine arts, but many events also connect to another curriculum area such as history or literature."
As coordinator of the series, Carly Shank works closely with an advisory committee of teachers to select programming significant to a broad spectrum of grade levels, said Griffin. "The events are presented by professional touring ensembles from all over the country and, occasionally, from other parts of the world. This year’s series includes plays of several well-known book titles, as well as a science event, an energetic percussion ensemble, and plays about the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the Underground Railroad."
She said about 25,000 students and teachers attend Class Acts each year. "Many teachers attend because of interest in the curriculum connections of a specific event, but many others attend primarily to give their students a first experience of live performing arts."
In addition to Class Acts, teachers may also participate in the ClassPass program, which offers significantly reduced ticket prices to many of the auditorium’s weekend and evening events. "This program, utilized mostly by high school teachers, enables school groups to attend an even wider selection of events and is designed to help build future audiences for the performing arts in central Illinois. Last year, more than 1,000 high school students attended a performance of Les Miserables as part of the ClassPass program," Griffin said.
A typical season at Sangamon includes more than 100 programs and events. "Planning for the diverse programs begins 18 months out and is finalized nine months before a season begins," Linn said. "Several issues must be considered when planning the season. These include audience needs and wants, artist fees and availability, and programming variety and balance."
Linn said the best part of her work at Sangamon is watching the audience respond to a program or artist. "There’s nothing like being in the theatre when the audience and artists are in sync. The most challenging aspect of the work is connecting audiences to artists they don’t know. There’s a tremendous body of work out there that’s still pretty much undiscovered by the public. It’s sometimes difficult to get audience members to take a chance on artists they don’t already know."
In addition to world class entertainment through the performing arts series program, Sangamon Auditorium and the UIS Studio Theatre are also available for companies and organizations to rent, she said. "Rental events include promoter shows such as B.B. King and Jerry Seinfeld, dance recitals, graduations, church services, and even conference events. The auditorium also has many services patrons can utilize to enhance their experience while attending performances.
Personal Amplified Listening Systems (PALs) are available at the coat check free of charge, with many different styles of ear phones to choose from. Silent pagers can be exchanged for a patron’s cell phone or pager in an effort to minimize distracting noise while still keeping patrons informed of emergency phone calls. Plus-size seating is available, if requested, for either large or tall patrons."
She said patrons will have no problem finding out about the many services and amenities the auditorium has to offer because of the Sangamon Auditorium Volunteer Association (SAVA). "They serve as ambassadors and greet guests, as well as take tickets, assist in finding your seats, and are well versed in emergency preparedness. The 375 current members volunteer their time to ensure patrons have a great experience from the time they walk into the lobby until they leave."
Linn said in the future, audiences will continue to see a balanced season of offerings that mixes performances by great artists and popular entertainers. "Sangamon Auditorium has a rich tradition of offering the best to central Illinois audiences. I don’t plan to stray from that tradition. There are many artists and entertainers I still want to present, and that’s what keeps this business interesting." AA!