By David Nilsen
For 38 years, Darke County Center for the Arts has been providing top-level entertainment and artistic enrichment for citizens of Greenville and Darke County. DCCA was founded in 1978 by five citizens who knew the importance of the arts and wanted to see our community benefit from a broader artistic presence here. From their vision, DCCA was formed, and for almost four decades now, citizens of our local small towns and rural county have been treated to musical performances, plays, children’s theater, and much more, all organized by DCCA. Due to this organization and its supporters, we have also benefited from the fabulous restoration of our beloved St. Clair Memorial Hall, where many of DCCA’s performances are showcased.
I recently had the chance to talk with Andrea Jordan, DCCA’s executive director, and Keith Rawlins, DCCA’s artistic & technical director, about the soon-to-be-released 2016-2017 performance schedule. They gave me a sneak peek at the upcoming schedule, and we talked about what we can expect from these concerts and stage shows. Andrea and Keith are both passionate about the arts, and their enthusiastic anticipation of these upcoming shows is clear in their answers below. Take a few moments to read our conversation, and keep checking back on DCCA’s website for the full upcoming schedule announcement, coming out soon!
David Nilsen (F&S): First of all, congratulations on wrapping up another successful DCCA season. Your new season opens, as it has in recent years, with Barbecue & Blues on July 15, the only outdoor performance on the schedule, and one of the only shows not in downtown Greenville. What sets that event apart, and what can attendees expect from it?
Keith Rawlins (DCCA): At this event, DCCA gets a chance to bring the Rock & Roll Blues to Darke County! Being outdoors at Turtle Creek is the perfect festive summer atmosphere and a great way to kick off the new season.
Andrea Jordan (DCCA): BBQ & Blues celebrates all things summer, and is overall a fun party! We will be starting things off with local favorite Higgins-Madewell and featuring Cincinnati blues artist J. Jesse Johnson. Tickets are $10 to enjoy the music and Turtle Creek will have food and drinks available for purchase.
David: This year’s schedule, as with previous years, strongly showcases children’s events. How important it is it for an arts program like DCCA to involve children, and what role do you see this aspect of DCCA playing in your broader vision for the organization and arts in Darke County?
Andrea: The upcoming season’s theme is CONNECTIONS and there is no better way this is realized than through our family programs and Arts in Education Outreach to Darke County schools. Part of DCCA’s mission is cultivating audiences for the future, and our organization strives to present outstanding arts experiences to all ages in our community. This season brings not only the usual Missoula Children’s Theatre (week-long theater camp, free to students to audition for and participate in), three Family Theatre Series performances where tickets are only $5 each or $12 for the series, and a professional arts performance to every grade level in Darke County public schools. We are also bringing Darke County a Riders in the Sky Special Family Event and the rare opportunity to attend public performances by three of the scheduled Arts in Education artists, including a Thursday evening performance by AudioBody and their thrilling high-tech comedy.
Keith: The arts boost learning and achievement for students. Research shows that arts education prepares students to succeed in school, work, and life, and exposure to the arts has been shown to stimulate creativity and improve critical thinking. All that aside–who knows which Darke County kid will be the next great artist!
David: Interior renovations were completed on Memorial Hall this past autumn. What was the extent of those renovations, and what changes will attendees notice if they haven’t been to the Hall since these were completed?
Keith: Everything in St. Clair Memorial Hall is in pristine form, the best it has ever been. The new light and sound systems create a stellar experience comparable to any of the top performance spaces in Ohio. The new seats not only look great but also add to the acoustics of the hall since their backs are wood instead of metal.
Andrea: The Hall simply looks like she should. From the moment you step through the restored front doors, you are in awe of her magnificence! Renovations included much-needed updates to technical equipment, including stage lighting and fresh paint throughout the lobby, auditorium, and civic room. New carpeting and floor tiles were installed in the auditorium, as well as the civic room and Anna Bier Gallery. The Gallery also had new lighting installed as well as a fresh coat of paint. New seating was installed in the auditorium and new Grand Drapes now adorn the stage. Finally, a brass railing was installed down the center of the main staircase. I am still hearing enthusiastic compliments from community members singing the praises of Memorial Hall and the recent renovations and updates.
David: As a book critic and avid reader, I am especially excited by the December stage performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There were no adult theater performances on last year’s schedule. How did this one come about, and what can we look forward to with this dramatization of the classic Christmas novel?
Andrea: DCCA patrons continually suggest a holiday event and musical theater. Our programming committee strives to meet those requests and in this case is able to meet both in one show. This season’s presentation of A Christmas Carol will be a traditional production of the classic holiday tale complete with singing and dancing and a twenty-three-person cast.
Keith: Memorial Hall’s stage, unfortunately, cannot accommodate most of today’s traveling theater productions. The stage is too small for truckloads of scenery and special effects that contemporary shows have. The space is more suited to music and concerts. When I was presented with A Christmas Carol, I was very excited at the opportunity to bring in not only a musical theater production, but one of the most beloved holiday shows ever.
David: The Coffee House series is one of my favorite programs DCCA runs. How did this series originally come about, and how do you find and choose just the right musical artists for these shows?
Keith: A few years back, DCCA and all arts presenters were finding that attendance numbers were declining at larger venues. Looking to reasons people attend arts events, DCCA decided to add a social aspect and showcase professional artists in an intimate setting. There are so many talented artists at presenter conferences, and many of these artists are based right here in Ohio. The Coffee House Series often presents up and coming new talent while they are still within DCCA’s budget and many artists who love our audiences and community and want to perform here.
Andrea: The Coffee House Series brings in artists who have the talent and credibility to play a venue like Memorial Hall, but DCCA mixes things up and presents them at unique venues throughout the county. Also, it is fun to have a “crossover event” and present a public evening show of our Arts in Education artists, allowing our audiences the opportunity to experience these artists beyond their educational-based performances. This season, that includes innovative pianist Jason Farnham who will be performing for K-3 students and at The Coffee Pot in February. I should also add that it is not unusual for Coffee House shows to sell out–tickets go on sale for all DCCA events July 1.
David: You describe AudioBody, a sibling act performing at Memorial Hall in December, as being “an explosive mix of circus arts, relentless comedy, LED light shows, and live up-beat, electronic music.” What now? What are we going to be watching on stage that night?
Andrea: DCCA is ecstatic to be presenting AudioBody, in St. Clair Memorial Hall for our Junior High students, as part of the Arts in Education programming. Since I saw the students’ reaction to Alpin Hong’s AIE presentation my first year with DCCA, I have worked with Keith and our programming committees to bring in an AIE artist that will also fill a slot in DCCA’s Artists Series. This is no small task, but this season our programming exceeds my every expectation! Not only are we presenting WE BANJO 3 to the High School students and our Artists Series patrons, but we are also adding a Special Coffee House event at St. Clair Memorial Hall with a public performance of AudioBody. Truly a one of a kind event not to be missed.
Keith: David, you summed it up perfectly. Without giving away any spoilers, this is not your average Coffee House show. AudioBody presents comedy mixed with a musical-digital interface, which is like nothing you have ever seen before.
David: I know you’re both excited about all the shows on the 2016-2017schedule, but are there any acts either of you are particularly excited for, or that mean something special to you?
Keith: I was thinking about this the other day and honestly have trouble narrowing it down to about eight shows I am extremely excited for in the upcoming season–I really cannot single out just one! We have a stellar Arts in Education lineup this year, including We Banjo 3, that I think people are going to love as much as VoicePlay, in last year’s season. I love musical theater and can’t wait to present A Christmas Carol, then there is the Coffee House Series presentation of two returning favorites together, with Austin Walkin’ Cane & Kristine Jackson. But I have to say that the show that exemplifies our CONNECTIONS season for me is the Riders in the Sky presentation of Kid’s Corral–these guys have been around for decades and are always a big hit with our audience. To bring them in to perform their kids show sums it all up!
Andrea: Speaking of CONNECTIONS, I was talking work with my nine-year-old son the other day–he likes to get the inside scoop on the Family Theatre Series and Missoula Children’s Theatre shows–and he cannot wait for us to bring in Laura Ingalls Wilder. His second-grade teacher started reading the Little House on the Prairie books to his class last year and we continued them through the summer, so that show is the one I am looking forward to the most in our upcoming season.
David: What do you see as being the unique role of the arts in a primarily rural community like Darke County? What does it mean to each of you to work with an organization representing the arts in a small town setting like this?
Andrea: Live performance creates a unique connection between the performer and the audience, and DCCA connects students, families, patrons, and community members through the continued efforts of our staff, our board, and our many, many supporters who make it all possible. As Executive Director, I continually strive to bring outstanding arts experiences to our patrons and make our community a great place to live.
Keith: DCCA’s role is the same as any arts organization in an urban setting or larger community. Our challenges in finding resources to fulfill our mission, though, are unique. We are very thankful for the enormous support DCCA and the arts receive from Darke County. I never thought I would find a job that is so fulfilling to me personally while also enriching lives in Darke County, and I never thought I would find a job to fit me so well. It is a gift getting to see audiences, and especially young audiences, experience the arts.
David: Finally, can you share anything with us about your vision for the future of DCCA and the arts in Darke County?
Andrea: DCCA had an amazing 2015-2016 season, selling out our Special Event The Texas Tenors, two of our Artists Series performances and bringing in over 500 patrons for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Though we always strive to sell tickets, the mission of DCCA is to provide cultural enrichment; DCCA’s founders and long time patrons along with community support have provided the arts a strong tradition in Darke County, which I look forward to continuing. In today’s high-tech and fast-paced world, you may find a need to disconnect—DCCA invites you to join us for our 2016-2017 CONNECTIONS season and rediscover how the arts connect us all and perhaps spark new and enriching CONNECTIONS of your own.
Keith: Every season presented by DCCA is unique, but focuses on DCCA’s mission. I have learned to do as much as I can to be ready for what is ahead while accepting that I will need to adapt to the unforeseen changes that always seem to pop up along the way. DCCA will continue to evolve and adapt to meet the cultural needs of the community and to continue DCCA’s mission of cultural enrichment by whatever path that takes.
David: Thank you both for taking some time to talk with us, and good luck on your 2016-2017 season!
You can CONNECT (see what I did there?) with DCCA at the following locations online:
DCCA’s Facebook page
DCCA’s Twitter account
DCCA’s Instagram account
Be sure to keep an eye out for their full 2016-2017 schedule release so you can buy tickets for your favorite shows!