Programming a lineup of performances to appeal to Miami's eclectic locals can be a challenge. We're a town of die-hard South Floridians, immigrants, transients, cougars, silver foxes, and snowbirds. But that's part of what the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts' senior director of programming, Erica Lynn Schwartz, admires about her work and this city.
"When you sit at a show here at the Arsht Center, you see an incredibly diverse audience, and I love that," Schwartz says. "I love that there are young people. I love that there are people on dates who are sitting next to an elderly couple who came out for a night of nice music. Then you have a family of four... We've been here for ten years, and that, to me, [represents] a very bright future for all that we can program for Miami."
So the Arsht caters to Miami's fickleness while also introducing it to artistic works that might fly under the radar. The 2016-17 season attempts to satiate diverse audiences through seven series. Broadway in Miami brings popular musicals of the Great White Way to the Arsht stage. The Knight Masterworks Season: Classical Music Series adds traditional symphonic performances to the mix, while Jazz Roots: A Larry Rosen Jazz Series concentrates on contemporary jazz masters. Live at Knight presents stars in the realms of rock, soul, hip-hop, comedy, literature, and current events, while Theater Up Close seats audiences right onstage with the actors for intimate, modern performances. Two dance series round out the lineup: the Masterworks Dance Series, focused on contemporary dance and ballet, and the Dance at Arsht Series.
An Additional Programming category comprises the uncategorizable, such as The Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra, composed by famed college rock band R.E.M.'s Mike Mills (October 20), and the third-ever production of Kansas City Choir Boy (November 30 to December 11) featuring Courtney Love.
This year's Broadway in Miami musicals include classics such as George Gershwin's jazzy An American in Paris (December 27 to January 1, 2017) and Rodgers & Hammerstein's beloved The King and I (May 9 to 14, 2017), as well as family favorites like Annie (March 3 to 5, 2017) and contemporary knockouts such as Jersey Boys (April 4 to 9, 2017) and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (February 14 to 19, 2017). The Classical Music Series brings industry leaders like the Minnesota Orchestra (January 10, 2017) and timeless compositions like Beethoven's Third Symphony (February 11, 2017) to downtown Miami. These selections are designed to excite fans of musical theater and classical music — but compared to the rest of the roster, they're among the most traditional.
The Live at Knight Series, on the other hand, brings the Beach Boys (yes, they're still touring and will perform December 15) and South Florida vocal pop favorites Pink Martini (January 13, 2017). Plus, the series is giving classical music the videogame treatment with Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions (December 3).
Schwartz notes the Arsht booked the Pokémon symphony before Pokémon Go became the latest mobile obsession. "We've had a ton of success, mind-blowing actually, with symphony concerts [like Pokémon Symphony]," she says. "We had Video Games Live a few years back; this past season, we did both Fantasia with a full orchestra, and we did [The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses]. They were sell-outs, crazy success — merchandise lines for days. People just went nuts! I love that there's an audience appreciating that now through a totally different medium."
The best part of these videogames shows, Schwartz says, is that new audiences — particularly kids — are drawn to the performing arts. "We booked it based on the symphonic, video components because I firmly believe that it is bringing a whole new generation to symphonic concerts in a different way," she says.
But the most locally oriented and thought-provoking presentations this season come in the Jazz Roots and Theater Up Close Series. Ma Rainey to Miles Davis: A Blues Journey (April 7, 2017) features University of Miami Frost School of Music dean and Jazz Roots artistic advisor Shelly Berg performing alongside pop icons Jimmy Vaughan and Steve Miller — a blend of local talent and international stardom. And two productions in the Theater Up Close Series are the most topical works in the entire season. After (October 27 to November 13, 2016), which will see its world premiere at the Arsht, and The Caretaker (March 30 to April 16, 2017), which will have its own South Florida debut, address sociopolitical issues relevant today. While the former considers violence in today's America, the latter, written by Nobel Prize Laureate Harold Pinter, considers the inscrutability of social class. And the staging for both — in which audiences sit on risers, often within arm's reach of the actors — enables audiences to interact with performers through chat-backs and postshow Q&As.
"Art... has the ability to open up people's experience [and] expose them to something new," Schwartz says. After, she continues, "will provoke a lot of conversations in an incredibly positive way — the way that really great theater does."