Given the inherent separation between performer and audience, it’s easy for the performing arts to become a passive experience. Not anymore. The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (The Clarice) is embarking on a new initiative to make the arts an interactive experience, starting with the NextNOW Fest. a four-day arts festival to kick off the 2014-2015 season.
“I’m very committed to beginning to develop relationships and work with artists who think and work with audiences in different ways,” said Martin Wollesen, Executive Director of The Clarice. “Rather than artist on stage, audience in the audience and the two don’t interact, to really look at how to create and develop more interactive experiences.”
The Fest features interactive performances, including dog & pony dc’s Toast, a participatory science-meets-performance piece. Audiences pick, at random, which of 30-two-minute plays to watch in a performance by the Neo-Futurists, a Chicago-based group whose co-artistic director is Kurt Chiang, an alum of the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies. The School of Music’s UMD Symphony Orchestra members will surround guests as they eat at Sunday’s NextNOW Fest brunch.
The Saturday of the NextNOW Fest falls on game day as the Terps play their second home game this season.
“The first thing that came up, of course, was that we just shut down our doors, because football takes over everything,” Wollesen said. “I said, “Let’s not shut down our doors. There’s an audience out there…let’s do something.”
That something is The Clarice’s first-ever ArtsTailgate, featuring BOMBSHELL BOOM BOOM (!), a DIY-marching band encouraging participants to make their own instruments and perform them in the pre-game parade to the football stadium.
“As a public university, I think we have a responsibility to engage and support and create access points for our community. I think that’s really critical,” Wollesen said. “And vice versa – to create access points for our students to engage in the community because this also should be a vibrant part of their UMD experience.”
Encouraging students to come to performances at The Clarice can be a challenge, Wollesen said. To highlight the talent and creativity emerging from students outside the School of Music and the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, The Clarice is collaborating with student groups for NextNOW Fest programs, including a late-night dance party presented by the Terrapin Beats Society.
While creating community through the arts is important, Wollesen said he also recognizes how the arts can create a global perspective.
“Giving our students in our community the opportunity to learn about and explore worlds beyond our own, I think, is really important,” Wollesen said.
Growing up, Wollesen moved often, living in Singapore, the Philippines, Portugal and Egypt, which allowed him to experience different cultures through the performing arts. He said he hopes to pass these experiences on to the students and community.
“I think in a lot of ways being in the performing arts, it’s continuing to be a traveler,” Wollesen said. “You’re exploring new things, you’re sometimes uncomfortable . . . but sometimes you’re like, ‘Oh, I never knew this world existed; this is amazing.’”
The NextNOW Fest runs Thursday, September 11 through Sunday, September 14, 2014.