Story By Hannah Lester / Photos Contributed By GPAC
Guests wait in their seats, anxious for the performance to begin. They’ve waited months for this show, they wore their best outfits and now it’s minutes away.
After the show is over, the guests will talk about how much they enjoyed it, get in their cars and drive home. The performance is over.
Little do the guests realize how much went into the performance they just saw and how much will need to happen before the next.
The Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center opened its first season in 2019, and though it hit a snag with the coronavirus pandemic in March, there were several shows, from vocal acts like Renée Fleming to Broadway Shows like Rent to Celebrity Acts like The Beach Boys.
Thanks to the pandemic, all shows are currently postponed at the Gogue Center, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be back. And when they return, there will be a lot of work behind the scenes that guests aren’t privy to.
When the Gogue Center opened in August 2019, it offered something to the community that wasn’t there before.
“A world class performing arts venue with programming that rivals other cities around the country,” said Chris Heacox, executive director at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center.
Before, an Auburn, Opelika or Lee County resident might have had to drive to Birmingham or Atlanta to see the type of shows they can now see five minutes down the road.
“What’s been really rewarding to me is to be able to engage with our community, those that live here and those that went to school at Auburn, those that have moved back and just have [them] tell me what it means to them to now have a performing arts center at Auburn or have a preforming arts center on campus,” Heacox said.
On an average day, Heacox will have meetings and phone calls galore. He might start with a conversation with Amy Miller, director of programming and education at the Jay and Susie Gogue Center, about education initiatives, he said. Then there are conversations with consultants, and looking toward the future at the Gogue Center – which artists will perform.
Heacox and Miller have to decide who to bring to the center for a season. Before an artist takes the stage, Heacox and Miller have been in contact with an agent, made arrangements for dates and handled all the small details.
“I think the thing that makes our business challenging is we have to put puzzle pieces together to make things happen,” Heacox said. “We’re a logistics business. So if we want to bring something, or an artist here, we may need to find partners in the area to bring that artist here as well to make it work financially for a tour.”
Things have to be right not only for the Gogue Center, but for an artist too.
“So we have conversations and relationships with agents from all over the country to present anything from dance to Broadway to concerts of all different kinds,” Heacox said. “And then the deals are worked out with the agents and then once those are worked out, it usually goes to a manager, a tour manager, and we work out all the details.”
Of course, it’s not all nitty-gritty. Miller gets to have some fun, too, by traveling to see shows or performances when deciding on who will tour at the Gogue Center.
“I travel quite a bit to see performing arts work, everything from multiple musical genres, to dance to theater to musical theater,” Miller said. “We do it collectively but that’s definitely something that’s on my purview.”
Heacox said that he enjoyed seeing the Broadway tours at the Gogue Center.
“Those are huge productions where we have to have four or five trucks come in and load the show in and then load it out and all the people that have to be here to work it, just all the behind the scenes work that has to be done so that when that curtain opens at 7:30 you feel like you’re in New York seeing the show,” Heacox said.
Miller is also in charge of connecting artists with the community, whether this is through the K-12 performances that the center hosts or having an artist speak to a group of theater students at Auburn University.
“A very important piece of what we do in the arts, in the performing arts is the moments when I witness an artist connecting to a community member or a community member being in awe of a performance,” Miller said.
THE DAY OF:
Before the curtain opens, the performers have to arrive and the stage has to be set. There are a lot of things to consider: wardrobes, lighting, scenery and sound and this is where Taylor Dyleski comes in.
Taylor Dyleski is the director of production at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center and all those elements are under his purview.
“Every artist is unique, every situation is unique, it really depends on the scale of a show,” Dyleski said. “We have performances that are one man sitting on a stool playing a guitar, to a Broadway performance that’s four or five tractor trailers full of scenery and props and costumes.”
Additionally, there is the matter of making sure an artist feels welcome. Dressing rooms have to be prepped because that artist is there to hang around the center the day of the performance too.
“We really want to make the Gogue Center the artist’s home for that day,” Dyleski said. “So, they’re living in the tour bus most of the time, so how can we make our facility comfortable like their home.”
There’s more to performance day than the show itself. Izzy Randall, patron services manager at the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center, handles tickets, concessions, the ushers and makes sure that patrons are satisfied.
The ushers, those who greet and lead people to their seats, are all volunteers, Randall said. Additionally, university students assist both as house managers, in the box office and concierge desk.
“The night of, my show basically starts when the first person that I work with arrives … and then it’s coordinating with my staff,” she said.
The audience differs by production, too, so Randall has to take that into account when preparing.
“With the Broadway show, particularly depending on the title, we can know to expect a certain kind of audience that may be different from like when we have like a country singer here in the building,” she said.
Of course, Heacox said the center likes to introduce audiences to shows or performers they might not even have heard of.
“[We strive] to be able present and curate artists that our audiences may or may not know,” Heacox said. “And then if they don’t know and they’ve taken a chance, they’ve been engaged with an artist that they may want to go see when they travel somewhere else or want us to bring them back. And so that’s been really exciting for me is to just engage with our audiences at each show and just hear those comments.”
Interacting with the audience is the most rewarding part of the job, Randall said.
“We really have an incredible community here that has embraced the Gogue Center as something that they’ve wanted forever and they finally have it and they’re not taking us for granted,” she said.