Dine/Dance/Discover: Wesleyan University Center for the Arts

Organization Name: Wesleyan University Center for the Arts

Department Submitting Recipe: Center for the Arts

City: Middletown

Program Name: Dine/Dance/Discover

Time of Program: Evening

Program Length: 2.5 hours

Goal: Provide opportunities for a segment of our audience to make greater meaning of the work they see on our stages, and thereby have greater insights into that work.

Time of Year Offered: Three times a year at all visiting dance company performances

Program Description:

Twenty-four individuals have the opportunity to attend a forty-five minute movement workshop at 5:30PM, a catered dinner and guided discussion about the visiting artist at 6:30PM, the performance at 8:00PM, and a post-performance discussion facilitated by a Wesleyan Dance Department faculty member with refreshments, including dessert and coffee. An important part of the program was to experiment with ways for audience members to connect kinesthetically with the performance. The movement workshops were facilitated by a faculty member from Wesleyan’s Dance Department who researched the artist and movement that would be seen in the performance and created a movement “lesson” that could be done by all workshop participants, even the novice. Those who were uncomfortable moving could still participate through other creative activities.

Number of Participants: Up to 24 people

Target Audience: All ages are welcome; no dance experience necessary

Is the program for kids? The primary purpose is to make greater meaning of the work they see on our stages.

Nature of Audience Engagement: The audience takes part in a 45-minute movement workshop (optional) starting at 5:30pm on the evening of the performance. They have the opportunity to embody the vocabulary of the visiting artist, led by a Wesleyan Dance Department faculty member. All ages are welcome; no dance experience necessary. The workshop is followed by an informal, catered dinner and discussion of ways to enter into the visiting artist's performance. The Breaking Ground Dance Series performance starts at 8pm, and is followed by dessert, coffee, and a post-performance discussion facilitated by a Wesleyan Dance Department faculty member.

Location: The workshop and dinner, including food and drink, take place in a dance and theater studio. The post-performance discussion takes place in a gallery.

How Many Staff: Six Wesleyan folks implement the program in various ways. The Center for the Arts staff markets the program to the public, connects the Dance Department faculty with the visiting artist choreographer, arranges for the reservation of spaces and the catered dinner and post-show dessert and coffee. A Wesleyan student who interned with the visiting artist, as part of the DanceLink Fellowship Program, also took part in the "Dine/Dance/Discover" event.

Marketing for Program: The program is marketed in the season brochure, on the website and posters, in e-mails and social media.

Cost for Program Participants: "Dine/Dance/Discover" is a $20 add-on to the regular ticket price for the dance performance

Attendance To Date: 75

Past Iterations: Three times during the first season in 2013-2014

What works? It was important for us to connect our facilitator to the choreographer in advance. The movement workshop, pre-show dinner discussion and post-show dessert discussion were that much more rich as a result. We learned to carefully consider the timing of the pre-show program components. Originally, the program started at 5:30pm, but some audience members stated that they felt there was too much time between the dinner and the performance so the third time, we moved the program up to 6pm. However, this led to the event feeling too constricted in terms of the social engagement component during dinner. During our second season in 2014-2015, we will keep the start time of 5:30pm, and also add in a pre-performance talk at 7:30pm. Dine/Dance/Discover attracted new audiences to our dance series, including a dance team from rural Connecticut who had never seen contemporary dance of this kind before. Furthermore, the number of participants who chose to move rather than just observe was 85%, and our facilitator found ways to engage the non-movers in various ways. The experience has led us to ask the following questions: 1. Is facilitation opening up the box to see what happens, or getting an audience to learn something specific? Could we do these types of events for other events beyond the dance genre? Might we include non-dance experts in the event, such as music department faculty members or English professors?

What doesn't work? Although we tested the idea of having the post-show dessert discussion be without the choreographer or company members to enable audience members to speak freely about the performance with our dance faculty member, there was one time when a company member came to the discussion because their relative was part of "Dine/Dance/Discover." This added so much to this particular discussion. What we learned is that depending on the company, we may vary our methodology and not feel that we have to stick rigidly to a format for each event. We might institute an appearance by a choreographer or company member, for example.

Performances Where Offered: We only offer this event for our visiting dance company performances, not the dance department faculty or student performances.

Past Research on Program: We surveyed the participants of "Dine/Dance/Discover" with paper surveys at the end of the evening, and via e-mail with a few follow up questions a day or two later. There also was a study conducted by Steven Stemler, Associate Professor of Psychology. On the whole, his research indicated that the Dine/Dance/Discover program successfully fulfilled its aim of increasing audience engagement in dance.

Continuing Program? Yes we will continue the program in the future since it was successful.