Jorgensen Director Fosters Student
Kris Veilleux was so moved by the Czech Philharmonic's recent performance of Dvorak's New World Symphony, she had tears in her eyes.
"Nothing compares to a live performance," said Veilleux after the performance at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.
Veilleux has been coming to Jorgensen for years. But it can be a challenge to get students to come to live entertainment, says Rodney Rock, director of Jorgensen.
"We need the arts in our lives more than ever," says Rock. "Live performances provide a respite, if only for an hour or two, from all that engulfs our daily lives and the world today. They enrich, enhance, and educate us."
Rock says for the past few years Jorgensen has been targeting more performances to the student market. "We want to get them excited about the cultural and performing arts," he says. "Our focus groups have shown that after classes, there is a tendency for students to go back to their dorm rooms and spend time on the Internet. They become oblivious to things happening on campus."
A student advisory committee formed two years ago by Jorgensen, David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts, and the Office of Student Affairs has helped identify artists who would appeal to a diverse group of students. "The committee has been a big help," Rock says, noting that recent performances by singer Ben Folds and comedian Dave Chappell were sold out.
What has also worked is a program called "hot seats", says Rock. Originally, discounted tickets for students were sold on the day of performance only. Now UConn students have the opportunity to purchase a $5 hot seat to most events anytime right up until showtime.
In addition, programs like "Culture Shock," designed for freshmen, have increased student attendance. Culture Shock allows freshmen to purchase discounted tickets before coming to campus. "The first year, 1999, we had 30 freshmen take advantage of it," Rock says. Now, we have more than 400 students coming to performances through this program."
For nearly 50 years, world-famous artists - from Itzhak Perlman to Pilobolus and Susan Tedeschi - have graced the Jorgensen stage. More than 40 performances, including Broadway musicals, symphony orchestras, and children's events are held at Jorgensen each year from September to May, to an audience totaling 65,000, including 6,000 annual subscribers.
Jorgensen not only presents major performance artists from around the world, but it is also home to the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, the professional producing arm of the dramatic arts department. The center also includes an art gallery, which displays touring and locally produced exhibits.
Under the administration of the School of Fine Arts since 2000, there is a renewed emphasis on Jorgensen's role as an educational tool, Rock says.
"Merging Jorgensen with the School of Fine Arts has drawn us back into the University setting. It has created a synergy and has had a larger impact on the arts on campus," he says, adding that there is now "a lot more collaboration with the departments in the School of Fine Arts." For example, an artist performing in a chamber event might be required also to take part in a convocation class - a seminar in the music department that all music students have to attend, or give a master class for a student string quartet. "Performers are excellent role models for our students," Rock says.
On a recent evening, new graduate students were invited to a Latin social dance at Jorgensen, where they learned salsa and merengue with dancers from the Ballet Hispanica who were performing on the main stage the following night. "We moved the chairs off the auditorium floor and everyone danced and had a wonderful time," Rock says.
In addition to drawing in UConn students, it is important to reach out to young people around the state. "We have to grow an audience for the arts for the future," he says.
Last year, for example, Jorgensen staff arranged for Urban Bush Women, a group that fuses dance, music, and storytelling, to perform for public school children. About 2,000 students from fourth to seventh grade attended an abbreviated morning performance of Soul Child, a story about a young African girl's struggle assimilating into a new society. A question-and-answer period followed.
Rock says the theater's project to refurbish its interiors has enhanced its feel and appearance. The mezzanine, main lobby, box office lobby, "green room," where stars meet and greet the audience, and two ladies' rooms were redone in the art deco style. It has restored some aesthetic continuity between the exterior and interior of the building," Rock says.
Jorgensen is also a venue for campus events sponsored by the administration, the Student Union Board of Governors, the music department, and various cultural centers. Convocation, December Commencement, Scholars Day, Latin Fest, the African American Cultural Center Gospel Cabaret, Husky Midnight Marathon, Asian Nite, and Winter Weekend are just a few of the many University events held annually in Jorgensen.
"I don't think young people are lost to the arts," Rock says. "I think when they get here and see a performance, they enjoy themselves and want to come back. And that's exactly what we want to happen."