By Randy Mathews
does one market an act that must be seen to be appreciated? That is the
dilemma, or more positively, the challenge, that occurred to me after having
the pleasure of hearing one of the most unique acts I’ve encountered in my
more than 20 years in facility management.
After two hours seated — and frequently standing — with
hundreds of other enthusiastic fans, I left the Lied Center on the campus of
the University of Kansas with jaws agape. I was, as the British say,
completely "gobsmacked" by the East Village Opera Company.
According to its website bio (www.eastvillageoperacom
pany.com), EVOC was co-founded by lead singer Tyley Ross and
arranger/multi-instrumentalist Peter Kiesewalter. They added two guitars,
bass and drums to Peter’s keyboards, then synched it to a string quartet. A
second vocalist, AnnMarie Milazzo, was recruited for duets with Tyley and
her own solo work. By embracing what Peter calls “the pomposity of rock and
the pomposity of opera” without demeaning or satirizing either form, EVOC
succeeds where countless other “classical- crossover” efforts have failed.
An Intriguing Question
How do you sell an act an audience likely hasn’t seen without drawing
comparisons to something they find familiar? How do you design a marketing
campaign that is creative, clever and enticing enough to lure jaded fans
like me away from my couch and into the theatre, performing arts center or
arena to see something that is truly incomparable?
I don’t know the answer but I have certainly found it
an intriguing question. So, a few weeks after attending a second EVOC show
at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts in my hometown of Salina,
Kansas, I caught up with Tyley by phone during a break from recording the
band’s third CD. Tyley said when he and Peter started writing and recording
together, they didn’t envision their project evolving into an actual rock
“It was more a case of, ‘How might these songs be
recorded if the original composers were alive today and had access to mod
ern instruments like synthesizers?’ There is a majesty and pomposity to both
these genres that lend themselves to each other,” Tyley explained.
Tyley said EVOC presents an exciting opportunity for
“If they are interested in the art of promoting we are
the ultimate act,” he said. “They actually have to think about how best to
promote us beyond just putting our name in the program and hoping people
show up. The promoters that embrace us are the ones who have an
entrepreneurial spirit and who want to give their patrons something
A Breath of Fresh Air
On Tyley’s enthusiastic recommendation, I contacted Charles Santos in
Dallas. Santos is the executive director of TITAS: Extraordinary Dance and
Music. Through TITAS, Santos has presented EVOC twice at McFarlin Auditorium
on the campus of Southern Methodist University. He hopes to bring EVOC back
during next year’s inaugural season of the Dallas Center for the Performing
First and foremost, Santos is an enthusiastic EVOC fan.
“I love them. I think they’re fantastic,” he said. “The
best thing about them is the response across the board is always
surprisingly good. People don’t know who they are when they walk in the door
but they come out huge fans. I have never
had so many people thank me for bringing in a group of performers.”
Santos said word of mouth has been the most effective
way to attract audiences to see EVOC.
“It’s about challenging people that this is a fabulous
act to bring friends to," he said. "It’s totally fun, totally entertaining
and a breath of fresh air.”
He also utilizes a broad range of other marketing
strategies, including ads in weekly and biweekly newspapers, direct mail
postcards and targeted e-blasts.
Perhaps most creatively, Santos has relied on his young
interns to attract friends to their MySpace and Facebook pages. The interns
then invite their newfound friends to attend an EVOC show and offer them
discounted tickets as an incentive.
Santos said TITAS has also been inspired by the web
site amazon.com, which refers buyers to other books they might find
appealing given their purchasing choices. He said that same concept could be
used to boost ticket sales. “For example, we might say that based on your
purchase of tickets to this show, we think you’d also like this show,” he
Santos has a link to the EVOC web site on the TITAS
site along with streaming videos of the band. He added that, for EVOC’s next
appearance, he is hoping to bring Tyley in early to appear on a morning
talk show and possibly conduct a music workshop.
Santos rarely brings a group back in consecutive years.
But he made an exception with EVOC. “There was so much excitement for the
people who came last year who loved it that I figured I could play off the
memory of that show,” he said. “It paid off. People were just beside
themselves coming out of the show.”
The Power of Promoters
From Tyley’s standpoint, promoters like Santos are invaluable.
“The promoters who have been adventurous enough to
bring us in have always been rewarded with excellent feedback from their
audiences,” he said. “They are the people who are turning lead into gold in
this industry. You have to go out and explain what it is you’re selling and
feel passionate about it. I’m actually in awe of the promoters who can do it
Tyley said he thought the key to EVOC finding its
audience and, perhaps more accurately, its audience finding EVOC, is for the
band to just keep playing.
“I’d like to think that we’re just waiting to be
found,” he said. “I think that in a couple of years we’ll be able to let you
know how that goes. I like a full house, but if there’s only a cou¬ple
hundred there instead of a thousand, we’re still happy to play the show. We
just hope the people who are there enjoy it, and the promoters are happy
with how it turns out.”
I shared with Tyley a comment from David Jenkins,
the friend who introduced me to EVOC.
“Imagine opera without the pomposity and bad makeup and
overblown sets,” David wrote in an email to friends and colleagues. “Imagine
opera stripped of all the bull****. Throw in a little Led Zeppelin
sensibility and very raw emotion and deep, tangible romance and that
clumsily starts to describe them.”
Tyley said, “That’s perfect! Now if we could just get
that into print!”
Consider it done, Tyley. Thanks for convincing this
jaded old burnout that there is still wonderfully unique music out there.
is assistant manager of the Salina Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kansas.
Contact him at rmathews@bicentennial. org.