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What’s gracing the Gracie

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Previewing the Gracie Theatre’s 2017-2018 season

BANGOR - The Gracie Theatre on the campus of Husson University holds just 490 people inside its doors. Managing director Jeri Misler tries to take advantage of the intimate venue.

“I feel like I have touched down on a style,” said Misler. “I try to aim at people who are looking for shows that fit well into an intimate space. Groups who might not fill other venues, but that people still very much want to hear and see in a great, well-refined setting.”

For the 2017-18 season at the Gracie Theatre, those shows include the vocal soul group The 5th Dimension - they come to Bangor on October 14 - and country star Pam Tillis, who arrives on April 14 of next year.

“A lot of people know the The 5th Dimension’s music, but they would not necessarily fill a 3000-seat venue. This a great way for people to see a group that they remember from the past,” said Misler.

The 5th Dimension’s hits include “Up, Up and Away”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “One Less Bell to Answer”, “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All”, and The Magic Garden LP. This incarnation of The 5th Dimension features original member Florence LaRue.

“They have got jazz, they have got soul and a bit of a Motown sound. They really are one of the old-style groups; you have the backup singers moving and dancing as they sing,” said Misler. “They will be a great show to watch as well as to listen to because of that style.”

Country star Pam Tillis will also be making her way to Bangor. Over the course of her career, 30 of her singles have landed on the U.S. Billboard charts. The two-time Grammy winner is also the daughter of country music star Mel Tillis.

“This tour is an acoustic version of her big shows,” said Misler. “Sometimes performers want to do different styles of concerts. They want to take a break from big venues or want to feel like they are reaching their audiences in a different way.

“Pam Tillis is someone I have had in mind for years,” she said.

Last year, country star Wynonna Judd came to the Gracie, doing something similar with an acoustic concert. “She sold out right away because we have 490 seats and she is a big star.”

Tillis will be sitting on the stage with a guitar and just two other musicians; she will likely attract a different type of country music fan, according to Misler.

“It really is a nice way to see her even if they have seen her [before] on a big stage with a big band,” she said. “It is a great opportunity to see her unplugged.”

For Misler, the process of putting together a season at the Gracie Theatre is a very long and complicated one.

“It starts with continuously looking at what people are interested in, evaluating the ticket data and seeing what seems to be popular,” she said. “I’m always looking for new and interesting acts.”

Misler is a member of an arts presenter collective that allows her access to agents and performers looking to book shows. She also attends an annual conference in New York City where she gets to see showcases of performers.

“It is a fantastic weekend where you can see 20 minutes of a show, a whole show, you can meet with an agent to book a show. It is a very large endeavor,” Misler said.

She gets a schedule of the shows that are going to be at the convention in New York and picks the ones she thinks will be a fit.

“You start to think about what shows you think you will be good, and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. On the other hand, there are shows you don’t think you will find that interesting that really pop out.”

And that’s hardly the end of it. After scouting the talent, Misler has to look at a variety of other details.

“You look at the budget and see what you can do. You start to hear what groups will be in the New England area. Our location is a consideration for sure; I can’t just fly a whole group in from California,” she said.

Along with all those factors needing to be taken into consideration, Misler says that the shows also have to fit the intimate space offered at the Gracie Theatre.

While the two musical acts are headliners of sorts, there are additional great shows booked for the season. There’s a Celtic fiddle group called Childsplay coming on November 17. Childsplay features 14 fiddlers and nine instrumentalists as well as dancers and singers. The Childsplay fiddlers use fiddles designed by Bob Childs, the group’s founder.

“They are going to do everything from what people consider very Celtic music to what they call ‘hoedowns’ – Appalachian-style - to jazz improvisation. They are going to do a whole range,” Misler said.

Celtic music is something that Misler was wary of doing in the past because she thought the large presence of Celtic fans in the area had other options.

“Last Christmas, I did a concert with a group in the area. People went crazy for it. I knew I had to nail down a Celtic group this season.” She said.

On February 24, the Gracie will host “Lonesome Traveler: The Concert.” “Lonesome Traveler” is an American Folk musical. The performance at the Gracie will feature parts of the musical, but focus on the American Folk music within the musical; it’s a celebration of the music of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and others.

“They are going to focus on the journey between really different styles of music,” said Misler. “It is going to be a great span of all kinds of music; there are singers and musicians with multimedia in the background. It’s wonderful and intimate.”

With the campus location of the Gracie Theatre comes an added sense of responsibility, both in terms of the educational aspects of things as well as of the community at large.

“Each year I try to attract at least one show that attracts students as well as the community,” she said.

This year, the magic show “Clockwork Mysteries” is that show. But it’s not quite the magic show that you might be imagining. The show – taking place on October 27 - takes viewers on a journey through time. The duo is also offering levitations in Bangor the day before the show.

“I was not looking for a magician who was going to just do magic tricks,” Misler said. “I wanted something with a theme.” She also added that this will be the first magic show at the Gracie.

“One of the primary missions of the Gracie is to give the New England School of Communications students the experience of working on shows with professionals. It is important that they learn the business hands-on,” she said. “I had never done magic [here], but when I saw this magic show, it was really technical with great lights and a really great soundtrack and had a theatrical experience to it.”

The students who will take part in the show have to sign a contract saying they will not reveal any secrets. “There’s so much going on with this show,” said Misler. “For the entertainment production majors, this is what they are learning to do.”

The students will also be responsible for a rehearsal on Thursday night. The show will require students to hand off a multitude of props and costumes to the performers. “The students will be right there, hands-on,” said Misler.

“Acqua Alta” by Jenny Q Chai features classical music with information on February 1. The show includes video representations of climate change from the research of Dr. Ian Fenty. Fenty will open the program with data from his research on climate change.

“Chai has assembled a number of different classical music compositions that she feels relates to the data you are going to see on the screen,” said Misler. “The music comes from other classical composers, but the way she plays it brings a 3D representation.”

Earlier in the day, the students at Husson will be able to attend a 50-minute performance from Dr. Fenty and Chai. “My hope is that students might be asked to come as part of their class or for extra credit,” said Misler. “I seek out at least one educational show a year,” said Misler.

“Acqua Alta” by Jenny Q Chai is part of the Gracie’s classical series. The Gracie tries to put on two classical shows a year, said Misler. Another classical show will be named later, along with other additional offerings, depending on scheduling and other details.

Misler has seen some of the seasons performers live, but not all. She did see some of “Lonesome Traveler: The Concert” live.

“It was really compelling and fun. I love the relationship of the performers to one another. It was conversational. It was like you were in the living room with them.”

Misler also saw some of what “Clockwork Mysteries” and Jenny Q Chai had to offer.

“The bigger stars would not go to the convention [in New York]. It is for groups that they think no one will know and who want to show arts presenters what their show is.”

According to Misler, the Gracie is also well-known for doing tribute shows. She says that it’s particularly important for her to see those sorts of acts live before booking, adding “I feel like the Gracie has a great reputation for picking tribute shows where the performers are really skilled and talented.”

No tributes have worked out thus far, but Misler is hoping that something comes along later in the year. “I get x dollars to spend; once I spend them, I don’t have a lot of wiggle room.”

When asked if her job was to find diamonds in the rough, Misler replied “Yes, that is a great way to put it.”

The Gracie Theatre opened in 2009 and has hosted over 250 events since its opening. Other than the shows, the Gracie is used for recording sessions, projects, other concerts and the Husson Student Theatre group’s performances. The Gracie serves as a learning platform for the students of the New England School of Communications in digital audio, sound mixing, set design and construction, lighting, stage management, acting and electronics.

The Gracie mission statement on the website reads:

“The Gracie Theatre shares and assists Husson University in their commitment to cultural exposure, experiential learning and community engagement by providing opportunities for student involvement in the arts, enriching campus life, and building a bridge between campus, region, and community through diverse programming.”

“When I am picking shows I really try to stick to that idea of serving the community and bringing the community to the Husson campus,” Misler said. “I think that we have so much for people to see and we want people in the area to realize that Husson is a beautiful place where things are happening. I want people look at the Gracie as another option to see a show.”

(For more details on the Gracie or the shows this season, you can visit their website at www.gracietheatre.com. Tickets can be purchased on their website or by calling the box office at 941-7888.) 

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