Music Store Shows Us How to Engage With Our Audience

After Lauren Smith began attending “jam sessions” with her dad at a local music store in Sullivan, Missouri, she realized something: These jam sessions provided opportunities for connection between artist and audience.

A freelance stage manager at the time, Smith began to relate what she saw to her work. Theaters, particularly those that produce classic works, she thought, could learn a few things from Westgate Music about providing such a gathering space for their patrons.

Westgate Music in Sullivan, Missouri. Photo Credit: Lauren Smith

Westgate Music in Sullivan, Missouri. Photo Credit: Lauren Smith

You can find Smith’s entire essay at HowlRound, and read one of her three principles that theaters might emulate below:

“Young people (and their ideas) matter.
James Grus’s electric guitar is a staple at Westgate. James, a teacher in his mid-20s, and Daniel Scott, who purchased Westgate in 2013, are part of a small but dedicated contingent of young adults embedded in Westgate’s community. One of Scott’s primary goals involves inviting younger people in Westgate’s community and maintaining their participation. Even as a younger musician himself, he finds this goal challenging, but essential to building his business and encouraging continued engagement with live country music in the Sullivan area.

Scott’s challenge of engaging a younger demographic mirrors a concern many classical theatres (and other arts organizations) face. How can we engage young people in ways that are meaningful to them? One strategy may look similar to what is already happening at Westgate — a blurring of lines between artist and audience member. Henry Jenkins and Vanessa Bertozzi note that in many young people’s cultural participation, ‘art is integrated into people’s everyday lives and is not necessarily a special event like a concern or sanctified space such as a museum or opera house’. Westgate’s jam sessions are regular, informal gatherings; people of any age can drop in for a song or two on their way to the grocery store, and they can choose to play, sing, or listen.”

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