March my wife, Marcelle, and I had the opportunity to travel to Moscow.
Professionally and personally I consider this to be a highlight of my career
and a lifetime Kodak moment.
I was invited to attend the performance of the
200-year-old Kuban Cossack Choir at the sold-out Kremlin Palace for a
special performance celebrating the birthday of Victor Zakharchenko,
considered by the Russian people to be a cultural icon (as a side note,
following this performance the choir performed for Presidents Bush and
Putin). Fortunately, the schedule permitted us to attend additional
performances. We went to the famous Tchaikovsky Moscow School of Music where
we heard the Moscow Philhar monic perform in the 130-year-old Main Hall
playing the Great Russian music of Rachmaninov. We then went to see the
Bolshoi Ballet, one of the most famous
companies world-wide, in their new home at the New Bolshoi Theatre. Each
theatre had a unique atmosphere and individual characteristics. This was
truly a remark-able experience and there are many things that stand out.
There is an amazing quality about these institutions in that each venue has
a social, political, and historical tie to the past, present, and future
cultural climate of Moscow.
The State Kremlin Palace is formerly the Kremlin Palace
of Congresses, a large modern building inside the Moscow Kremlin. Opened in
1962 during the height of the Cold War and under the personal insistence of
Nikita Khrushchev, it was a contemporary arena for Communist Party meetings.
The building is a modern glass and concrete design and nearly half of it is
submerged under- ground. Now it is used for official and popular concerts.
The Moscow Conservatory is a prominent music school in
Russia. It was co-founded in 1866. At its opening, Tchaikovsky was appointed
professor of theory and harmony. Since 1940, the conservatory has borne
The New Bolshoi Theatre, arguably the most famous
theatre in Russia, sits adjacent to the original and was completed in an
astounding six months. It is a fully modern theatre whose design reflects
the original architecture of its sister venue. The Bolshoi was established
in 1824 and located in Theatre Square. At the present, the large hall is
undergoing major renovation and will be reopened in 2009.
I do not know what security was like in Russian
theaters prior to the terrorist situation in a Moscow theater in 2002, but
this trip proved that all of these venues
have developed sophisticated processes that minimize the patron discomfort.
At all three venues, security was checked and patrons passed through a
screening system. The whole process took less than a minute or two per
patron, no one complained and everyone knew the drill.
Additionally, due to multiple reasons including
security, heavy coats are not permitted in the theater. All heavy coats are
brought to coatrooms; coats do not fill empty seats or laps. Because I have
worked in the south where winter jackets are rarely worn for an extended
period of time, I can honestly tell you that I have never seen such large
coatrooms. The Kremlin coatroom was larger than the square footage of the
lobby of my current theater!
How would your patrons feel if they had to buy a show
program? In theaters across the U.S. our patrons expect to have a program
provided to them, but the theaters in Russia sell the programs. For patrons
who did not purchase a program at the Moscow Philharmonic each work was
introduced and explained. Naturally, the purchased programs still had
advertising. We paid anywhere from $1 US to $5US. Could this be a future
revenue center for our venues?
Comparing and Contrasting
The audiences were very enthusiastic and the performances were all sold-out.
house management has many of the same issues that we have in our U.S.
theaters. The U.S. does not have the exclusive on the “Great Technology
Theater Plague.” Similar issues such as cellular phones and cameras are
addressed through signage and announcements. Photography was also rampant
and is an obvious issue at the Bolshoi Ballet. But, like many tourists
visiting the venue, I must admit that both Marcelle and I broke the rules
and took pictures of the performances for our family scrapbook.
The phenomenon in the United States of our audiences
dressing more casually is not isolated. When Marcelle and I were invited to
a performance and jubilee we expected a dressy evening and we had numerous
discussions about what to wear with our host and between ourselves.
Ultimately, we overdressed. The audience dressed for comfort and enjoyment.
We found this to be the case at other performances as well.
My final observation is one that I think all of us need
to be aware of. Venue signage and staff, including box office, either were
in or spoke Russian only. I realize that I was visiting a foreign country,
but I would have appreciated if one person could help us. It would have been
nice to find the restrooms without hunting for them. I would suspect venues
in cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami, that have more
non-English speaking audiences (other than Spanish), experience this issue
to a greater degree than in Mesa. We ensure that we have staff that speaks
Spanish, but I doubt that we could regularly translate other languages to
Russia was truly fascinating. As a manager I can draw
from my experiences to better understand at least how venues in other
countries operate. As a manager, I highly recommend that if you get the
opportunity to visit another country, make sure that you experience as much
of the culture as you can. I know that this experience will help me do my
Randy Vogel is assistant
director-theaters and operations at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.