Beck Center: Co-Creating With College Students Entices Younger Audiences

Above, listen to the story of the Beck Center for the Arts’s new approaches to building the audiences of tomorrow.  This is one of 12 Audio Postcards about arts organizations generating new approaches to engaging younger and more culturally diverse audiences as participants in Engaging the Future, a program of EmcArts and the Cleveland Foundation.

Beck Center for the Arts was founded in 1933 in Lakewood Ohio as a community theater, but Artistic Director, Scott Spence, says “about 13 years ago we started to modify that, realizing that if we were going to be artistically competitive we would really have to take a step away from that model.”

Their audience is typical of other theaters, say Spence, “fairly white-bread… affluent, educated.” As they entered the Engaging the Future program, the Beck Center was asking itself about how “to find out where tomorrow’s audiences are coming from.” In particular, Spence was interested in engaging younger audiences.

In considering new approaches, Spence’s philosophy was “you’ve got to look under every rock and figure out how can I make what I do better? How can I invite other people to the dance?” This kind of new thinking led to a partnership with Baldwin Wallace, a local college with an acclaimed musical theater program.

Victoria Bussert, Director of the Music Theater for Baldwin Wallace College says, “I was looking for another experience that our students could have, specifically, working off-campus” and a partnership with Beck Center was a natural fit. Together, the Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace put together a production of Spring Awakening that was staffed by the Beck Center and cast with students from Baldwin Wallace.

The resulting production was a success for both. Spece says “25% of our huge gross was from student tickets. That tells you something is working.” Bussert was thrilled to be able to offer her students a professional experience during their time on campus. “I don’t know of another collaboration that exists this way,” she says, “ between a higher academic institution and a professional theater.”

By joining forces, the Beck Center and Baldwin Wallace created an experience that was authentically meaningful to both the students and audience. Spense says, “I think we can continue to make some magic together — I’m really excited.”

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Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.