Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center's next season filled with nationwide, local talent
By Lou Fancher
Tools long-associated with nautical adventures--anchors, ropes and wind-catching sails -- are swiftly becoming Tri-Valley arts presenters' best season-building practices.
In an announcement of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center's 10th season, returning national superstars and local artists provide an anchor for high-flying riskier acts while all-audience pleasers serve to tether the two extremes. "People want to see things of a certain quality (so) that they know what will happen; young people want artists that cause them to say, 'Oh my god, you got them?' and there's a balance between what's popular and what people give us money to present," says Executive Director Scott Kenison.
The teeter-totter of booking acts for the LVPAC's main stage venue, the 500-seat Bankhead Theater, requires complex thinking. Assumptions and missteps come at a cost. Unlike in other cities, the Livermore presenting center is not funded by a university or the city. Audiences and donors largely keep the boat afloat. The LVPAC finished the 2015 fiscal year with a surplus for its first time, but it wasn't easy.
"Last year, I didn't know the community as well as I do now," admits Kenison with surprising candor. "We did a few challenging things -- like the Met Opera Rising Stars, the Triplets of Belleville, the Hot Sardines -- that weren't well-attended. We did a weekend in early March with three programs I thought were so different they wouldn't cannibalize each other's audience. But in reality, three things outside-the-box in three weeks splits the audience in thirds."
Having learned from and listened to audiences, Kenison says the 2016-17 season reflects his first year selecting all of the acts. (He entered midstream and had partial input in 2015-16.) There are more Friday-Saturday shows, fewer weeknight shows. Theater shows weren't boom items last year, but they'll continue because Kenison says, "those 200 people who came are engaged, vocal and devoted supporters." Even in this endeavor, there's deliberation in the crowd-pleasing selections and how they're sprinkled throughout the season: Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Nile" (Nov. 15), Neil Simon's "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" (Mar. 16) and L.A. Theater Works' production of "Judgement at Nuremberg" (Apr. 19).
In other categories, interesting tacks are taken. Jimmie Vaughn and the Tilt-A-Whirl Band and six-time Grammy Award-winning Irish band The Chieftains set sturdy, big-name stakes for more flights of musical fancy, like a late-September serving, the Big Head Blues Club. Featuring the fans-forever-prone Big Head Todd and the Monsters paired with up with bluesy artists Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks, Kenison says reactions from the younger set are immediate and positive. "They're the 'Oh-my-God-you-got-them' selection," he says.
Dance offerings are a perfect storm of lucky draws. Although the Paul Taylor Dance Company's second company has performed in Livermore, this will be the main company's first appearance (May 3). A week hiatus between their shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles will be filled fortuitously with a master class at Valley Dance Theatre, a fundraiser event and the public performance.
"Otherwise, they'd have to fly them all home to New York and then back to California," says Kenison. "Besides, they love to drink wine, so we're the perfect hosts. In fact, they're going to pair each of the dances they select to perform with a specific Livermore wine."
Parsons Dance will provide a sleek, contemporary profile (Oct. 7) with enough classicism at its roots to be a bridge to the Russian National Ballet Theatre, returning with the classic ballet "Giselle" (Feb. 7).
The Rae Dorough Speaker Series board handpicks the presenters for LVPAC's popular speaker series that admits Livermore Joint United School District students free of charge (other students receive a reduced ticket price). This year's notably strong offerings include experts addressing high-profile topics: sports-related concussions, the "college admissions arms race," ever-popular, ever-dreaded earthquakes and the latest developments in scientists' understanding of cancer and genetics.
Education and entertainment are infinite in the 50 performances of resident companies that highlight the area's rich, local talent. In addition to the speaker series, the artists of Del Valle Fine Arts, Livermore-Amador Symphony, Livermore Valley Opera, Pacific Chamber Orchestra, Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre and Valley Dance Theatre appear throughout the season as hometown "anchors."
After a glittery "Brilliance at the Bankhead" gala featuring singer Judy Collins (Sept. 10), it would be wrong to assume the lights will dim. In addition to all the shows called out here, there's bluegrass and Celtic music ("The Tri-Valley loves roots music," says Kenison); comedy from solo performers, group acts and stunt dogs; "Art and Wine Intertwined" gatherings with live music and wine tastings; and more.