The new artistic director for the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University, Stan Workman, who is also a professor in the university’s theater arts department, said you probably never are going to see big-name, contemporary top 20 acts or long runs of Broadway shows at the Riffe Center anytime soon.
However, Workman’s arrival is part of a big change in leadership at the center which could, and possibly should, lead to some changes in the types of acts or shows brought into the heart of Portsmouth.
Workman said his job primarily is to research in various ways potential shows possibly willing to come to Portsmouth. Previously, the job was handled by the same person who dealt with the day-to-day operations of the Riffe Center. That person also handled rentals of center facilities and university facilities in other buildings. Those jobs now belong to 3 separate people, including Workman, who added his responsibilities include promoting further use of the Riffe Center.
Having taken over just about a month or so back, Workman said his first big task is to set the stage, so to speak, for the 2019-2020 Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association (SOPAA) series. The SOPAA series probably is the most visible series of performances put on at the Riffe Center.
The current season’s performances include “The Wizard of Oz,” which arrives for one night next week; “A Christmas Carol,” which appropriately arrives in late November; and, a one-night stand by famed pianist Jim Brickman early next year. Workman said planners regularly try to bring in two Broadway traveling shows per season. For the current season, one of those shows is the well-known musical “Chicago,” which arrives for a single night performance in April.
So how does Workman go about selecting shows and performers for the next season? He said he started by attending what’s known as the Midwest Arts Conference. Workman said essentially a bunch of acts and promoters get together at a hotel with booking agents and persons such as himself. The booking agents and art directors end up running from room to room visiting with acts, seeing snippets of performances and learning what shows might be available.
“There’s so much involved,” Workman said. “You have to be just as aggressive as a promoter.”
Readers may have noticed performers and shows generally end up at the Riffe Center for one night only. The bottom line is, Workman said, bigger acts are extremely expensive. (A fact lamented over by planners of the city’s annual River Days festival.) Traveling Broadway shows also are costly and will only come to mid-sized venues such as the Riffe Center during the week (they want to spend the high-profile weekends in more lucrative markets) and almost always for one night only. This might seem obvious to some, but Workman said the community just cannot provide sufficient attendance to pay for and attract bigger acts and longer runs by bigger plays or shows.
As for the next season of shows at the Riffe Center, Workman said he obtained a list of Broadway shows willing to do single night performances. He declined to talk about what shows might be coming to Portsmouth next year.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” he said.
Interim SSU President Jeffrey Bauer said in an interview with the Daily Times he was very pleased to have Workman aboard at the Riffe Center. He also expressed hope the new leadership might be able to increase the use and raise the profile of the center.
“We’re already exploring the possibility of bringing in various educational groups, particularly the Ohio Music Educators Association. We are definitely looking to host events for the group,” Workman said, adding SSU already hosts one such event. One idea is to attract potential new students to the SSU campus. Another is, naturally enough, to increase educational opportunities for current students. While all that might sound well and good for SSU and its students, community members might wonder why the center does not feature more popular mainstream acts as the Oak Ridge Boys who will be in town for their annual Christmas show in November. Workman said it again goes back to the cost of big-name acts.
“Most people might not realize it, but big-name acts are extremely expensive,” Workman said. “We were actually very fortunate in getting the Oak Ridge Boys. We’ve had a great relationship with them.”
One other issue Workman touched on is the fact the Riffe Center shows need to appeal to a broad range of people. Some people might want a country act, he said, while others are looking for a rock band. The same principle applies to Broadway shows, he added. Some people love musicals, others just don’t. The SOPAA series tries to appeal to as wide a range of audiences as possible.
To conclude his remarks, Workman again said he didn’t want to give too much away regarding the upcoming SOPAA season.
“We are looking to get a big, splashy opening, I can tell you that much,” Workman said.