Xtreme Book Club Idea Makes Connections

By Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

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Last week I wrote about the importance of recognizing and instilling public value for the arts. So how do we do this? Are there things you are doing as an organization or as an individual that are helping people recognize the importance of the arts in their lives?

Cultural institutions often approach the task of creating value by working to engage people in an experience that goes beyond the basic activity of witnessing the final product of a creative process. They look for ways to deepen the practice of viewing a play, dance, music event, or exhibition by finding unique ways to connect to the lives of their patrons. This requires ingenuity and thinking outside the standard marketing tactics box.

For example, over the past three years, the George Street Playhouse has been connecting their audiences to theatre through an innovative Book Club Package that converts the theatre viewing experience into a three-step engagement. Through a “Reading, Talking, Seeing” process they enhance a book discussion group’s ability to transform the solitary reading practice into a communal activity that takes the words off the page and live onto the stage. And, as an enthusiastic book club member, I am willing to bet it will be even more fun!

This season, the George Street Playhouse is applying the “Read, Talk, See“ process to their November 17th through December 13th production of A Moon to Dance By, a new play that tells the story of British novelist D.H. Lawrence’s widow, Frieda Weekley, and a meeting with her adult son whom she left behind 17 years earlier (along with his two young sisters) when she divorced their father to be with Lawrence.  Juicy stuff.

First the Playhouse recommends that you read one of D.H. Lawrence’s best-known novels, Women in Love which is thought to have been inspired by Lawrence’s wife (the protagonist of the play). Next they invite the book clubs to read the script of A Moon to Dance By to see how his wife Frieda is faring 20 years after Women in Love was written.

What makes this package truly exceptional is that not only will the George Street Playhouse staff provide a helpful study guide to get the conversation flowing, they will also send a staff member to your book club to talk about the novel and script before or after coming to see the show. Or if you prefer, schedule the talk for the night of the performance you attend. How great is that?

Then, the ingredient that will set your book club apart from the rest, you are invited to see the production of A Moon to Dance By starring Academy Award, Tony Award and Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Alexander, Tony-nominated and New Jersey favorite Bob Cuccioli and Broadway star and screen actor Gareth Saxe. (The men, incidentally, are currently starring in Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s terrific production of Hamlet through October 11, 2009. And, if I may reveal a well-kept secret that has made all “Dodgers” proud, this production features the best Fortinbras you will ever see, played by Robert Grant, the son of our President and CEO David Grant.)

Now this might all sound like a lot of extra work to bring people into the theatre, but for the GSP staff, especially those who work on the administrative side, the opportunity to connect with their audience in such a meaningful way has reminded them of why they dedicated their lives to the theatre in the first place. Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kelly Ryman feels this program gives staff an opportunity to have real dialogue with their patrons about the themes of the play and makes everyone involved a stakeholder in the creative process.

For more information or to book your order contact Michelle at mbergamo@georgestplayhouse.org or 732-846-2895 x134.

Tell us, how are you connecting your community/audiences to your work in a way that makes them recognize the power of the arts in their lives?

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