Spotlight: International Performing Arts Trends

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Nancy Wagner of Wenger Corporation

Nancy Wagner of Wenger Corporation

For some perspective on international performing arts trends, the International Theatre Engineering Architecture Conference (ITEAC) is a great event. The theme of last year’s conference in London — “The Future of Performance Spaces: People, Places and Technologies” – had this description:

“For those who specify, design, equip and operate performance spaces, ensuring that these will meet the needs of future users has always been a challenge. The rapid changes taking place globally, driven by audience expectations, the availability of new technologies and the demands of innovative and more flexible programming will necessitate new approaches…”

To learn more about international performing arts trends discussed at ITEAC, we caught up with conference attendee and world traveler Nancy Wagner, who leads Wenger’s international sales efforts. (In the last few years, Wagner has attended a variety of performances in Brazil, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.)

YPP: What was the “People” focus at ITEAC?

Wagner: I heard discussions about audience unity – how facility design can unify a venue’s audience without separating them from the stage. Orchestra pits were vilified for being “ugly” and “awful” because they separate the audience and performers.

On a related note – connecting performers with the audience – there was an interesting panel on social media. To more fully engage with the audience, many younger directors/artists want the audience interacting with the artists, such as through Twitter. However, the older generation wants all cell phones and devices turned off during performances. It will be interesting to see this conflict between the generations play out and how audiences react.
Greater access for disabled patrons was also discussed. This is especially a problem for older venues and countries that must comply w/ ADA-type regulations by providing access to all seat prices/seat levels.

YPP: What were some highlights of the “Places” discussion?
Wagner: We’re losing our “quirky” spaces – some people feel many performance spaces have become “standardized” to a certain formula, especially for acoustics. Spaces should allow for some creativity and unique aspects.

Younger theater directors in particular like spaces that are more flexible and temporary. They like the creativity (and potential cost savings) of finding unique spaces to hold performances rather than “built-for-purpose” spaces. Given economic constraints limiting new construction, artists may have to ‘make do’ with existing spaces that are renovated or altered.

Some new temporary theaters are being built in rural locations, where building costs are lower in part because quieter sites require less acoustical considerations.

Establishing cultural districts (combining performing arts with shopping, hotels, restaurants, etc.) is seen as a way to return to a more human scale and understanding of why people gather in the first place. The West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong is a well-known example; the architect wanted to recreate the traditional Chinese gathering place: the tea house.

YPP: Finally, what about Technology?

Wagner: As events gets larger and larger, with budgets often tight, one common question becomes whether to spend money on the venue itself or on technology for the performance. Examples include elaborate flying systems or scenery created with a 3-D printer.

On the topic of active acoustic systems, some conductors refuse them, because they believe such systems rob the ensemble and the space of its personality. However, most of the general public accept such systems – the response has been good: If you can’t hear the performance, why have it in the first place?

For funding facilities and technology, at ITEAC I also noticed an interesting contrast between the United States/Western EU countries, where public funds are drying up, and China/Hong Kong/Middle East, where large publicly funded projects continue.


Your Thoughts? If you’ve traveled or worked internationally, what performing arts trends have you observed?

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