Mendel Center assembles a brandname seasonPublished 9:00am Saturday, June 30, 2012
Since relocating to the Benton Harbor Arts District, I’ve watched the Mendel Center with enthusiastic befuddlement. The 1,517-seat auditorium in Benton Township has every accouterment found in a pro theater (minus trap doors in the stage floor). I’ve toured the venue when planning some of my shows, and I’ve come to know the staff there. Yet, in nearly five years, I’ve only attended four shows there, and two of them were presented by an outside promoter. Somehow that doesn’t seem right, but their season roster hasn’t appealed to me year after year.
I always wondered why there aren’t more popular artists appearing at the Mendel Center. Studying this microcosm of a small market, I’ve seen that one thing locals do regularly spend their money on is a brand name and they’ll travel to do it — be it at a bigger city’s mall or at a bigger city’s theater. In retail, name brands energize other sales at the shop and create foot traffic, thus acting as a purchased form of advertising for the shop itself and is usually well worth the additional cost. A theater builds their customer base the same way. In past years, I regularly followed the schedule of the Holiday Star Theater in Merrillville because they had artists I recognized and it became my favorite concert destination.
But the Mendel seemed to be caught in a trap of offering non-brand name acts (read: inexpensive) as a conservative reaction to the declined economy. However, half-filled houses on non-brand name acts leave those who do bother to attend with a taste of disappointment. Part of the concert-going experience is finding oneself in a room filled with people who also love the show or artist you love. A lackluster turnout does not deliver the same feeling and can in fact, damper a good experience. Solid attendance turns a show into a happening and creates great word of mouth marketing for the venue. For these and more reasons, I believe playing it safe for a few years was a huge mistake for the Mendel.
The good news is that The Mendel Center seems to have figured this out. Last week, I attended a series launch party and witnessed the announcement of a season that should easily be their best in years and is definitely a big step in the right direction. At the shindig, I missed seeing Larry Erdman who recently stepped down, but not before he put together a great parting gift to the organization in the form of this season.
Their marketing slogan is “See Something To Talk About” and I think they’ve delivered. Marquis shows include the iconic and enigmatic Blue Man Group; the Tony-winning “Hair;” Disney’s highly revered “Beauty and the Beast;” “The Blues Brothers Revue” (the only show of its kind sanctioned by Dan Aykroyd and the Belushi Estate); and the interactive off-Broadway wedding celebration I first heard of in L.A. a decade ago, “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” — a smart booking for the Mendel.
Musically, the combination of Dr. John and The Blind Boys Of Alabama in “Spirituals to Funk” should be really cool show and country fans should be pleased to see a Christmas time show with Lee Greenwood, who sounded great in the promo film. If romantic piano instrumentals are your thing, Jim Brickman is your man. He must be doing something right as it says here he’s sold 7 million records — pretty massive for someone that doesn’t make pop radio.
Drama lovers should love The Acting Company, a drama troupe co-founded by actor Kevin Kline and heralded by the New York Times, is performing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” on back-to-back dates in March.
Dance lovers won’t want to miss The Russian National Ballet Theater’s “Swan Lake” in January. If modern dance is your thing, check out Parsons Dance in November. Filled with an urban energy and aesthetic, Traces will give you something to talk about at the water cooler with its combination of acrobatics, modern dance and unpredictability.
Other genres included in the series include Political satire with “Capitol Steps;” kids attractions like “How I Became a Pirate,” “The Velveteen Rabbit” and a black light puppet show called “Imaginocean.” The latter might appeal to a few stoners I know as well, but I’m worried that if tell them to go they may giggle louder than the kids.
No matter how you look at it, this season has something for everyone so I encourage you all to support their efforts to step up to the plate and bring some great brand name entertainment to the area. After a drought of interesting acts, they’ve finally given us something to talk about. For full details, check out www.lmcmainstage.org.
Dave Carlock is a 25-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable. His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District. www.davecarlock.com.
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