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Great shows grace the Gracie: A 2019-2020 season preview Featured

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BANGOR – There’s another great slate of shows gracing the stage of the Gracie Theatre this season.

The Gracie Theatre – located on the campus of Husson University – will be presenting a wide range of entertainment over the course of this season, their eighth. Music and comedy and more will be offered up to arts lovers and cultural consumers of the region.

The Gracie has been a welcome part of the region’s creative scene for years now, one that has thrived over the past eight years, bringing a wonderful and diverse crop of performers to their Bangor stage every season. This year’s slate is no exception, featuring some fun new acts and a familiar face or two.

Jeri Misler, the managing director (and more!) of the Gracie, was kind enough to answer a few questions from The Maine Edge about the upcoming season and what it means to put a program like this together.

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The Maine Edge: What is the process you go through to assemble your season?

Jeri Misler: The process is three-fold. I meet with agents via the phone or in person, I watch YouTube videos of many groups and I attend an annual conference. As a member of The Association of Arts Presenters, I receive a slew of emails from agents and touring artists. From these, I gauge who might be a good fit for the Gracie, considering what patrons might like, what might sell, what we can afford and whether the group will come to Maine. With only 490 seats, I have to consider costs and at times request “two-show” days to make the numbers work.

Our location presents challenges as well. Bangor is a bit out of the way for groups touring in Massachusetts, for example. That being said, we have been fortunate enough to attract some very big-name acts, artists who enjoy and seek out smaller venues, allowing them to connect with their fans. I am bold at times and inquire about groups who may seem too large for the Gracie. And at times, I have been lucky, and they have said “yes.” Those bold “asks” have kept the Gracie going strong and gaining a solid reputation.

As I mentioned, attending an annual conference where artists, agents and presenters come together for several days is especially helpful, informative and overstimulating! There I learn about routings of popular groups, see new acts, and talk directly with agents. My wish list for the next season is created, and somehow the puzzle pieces eventually come together to form a season.

TME: How long does it take? Who, other than yourself, is involved?

JM: The process of selecting a season is on-going. My job is a 12-month position due to variety of hats worn. I serve as the artistic director, managing director, marketing buyer and box office manager so final decisions do come down to me. However, our technical director James Ruksznis, as well as some key NESCom faculty members, provide valuable input. James, aka “Litho,” reviews group riders and requests to see that a particular show’s demands are attainable and affordable. At times, we consult with faculty members to see if a show meets curricular needs for one of the programs offered. After hearing opinions, I’ll make an offer.

TME: What draws you to select certain acts to bring to the Gracie? Is there a specific sort of act you look for?

JM: The Gracie’s mission is twofold.

One, we wish to provide cultural experiences that will draw patrons to Husson’s campus. Husson has grown exponentially in the last decade; in fact, the Gracie and the Beardsley Meeting House (where the theatre is located) turns 10 this fall! In those 10 years, the theatre has established itself as a favorite venue for many patrons who may not ever have a reason to visit campus. Patrons come to campus and are impressed by the growth of the University, which helps our visibility.

The second goal is to provide professional, experiential learning experiences for students enrolled in majors related to the entertainment industry. Our students volunteer to work on the touring shows and we simply would not have a Gracie season, if not for their help. This is hands-on training in lighting, stage management, sound mixing, and sound engineering. Their skills, and willingness to work 12- to 15-hour days putting in a show and then loading it out earn them a working knowledge of what it takes to be an industry professional. In addition, they build impressive resumes, having worked with big name artists such as Molly Ringwald, Home Free, The 5th Dimension, Paul Reiser, Lee Rocker, Manhattan Transfer and more. It is not uncommon for our NESCom students to get offered jobs by some of our touring groups once they see the talent and training they bring. So, yes, I do look for acts which provide students with a range of professional experiences and opportunities.

TME: Is it difficult to find ways to strike the right balance and appeal to the broadest possible audience with the acts you book?

JM: It is a challenge. There are limitations I mentioned (budget, venue size, location) and the stars have to align in terms of those three factors. However, there’s always a small question: “How far-reaching can I go with a certain style of artist, and still fill seats?” Sometimes I think I could book only Motown and sell every seat, but that would not be serving the mission, or build a larger audience base.

Name recognition of groups is another issue. There are hundreds of incredible musicians dying to perform, but if audiences don’t recognize their name, it is hard to sell tickets. That’s where smart advertising comes in. Booking a season is one half of the battle; the other is getting folks to hear about the shows, selecting the right media outlet to attract patrons and staying within budget. Matching patrons with the right media outlet is key.

TME: Can you talk a little bit about the cornerstone acts that are coming? The ones that sort of serve as the foundation of the season?

JM: The Hit Men, a legendary supergroup, will be here in October for our Homecoming. They are Musicians Hall of Fame honorees who sang, played and/or recorded with some of the biggest names in music: Elton John, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, and performed with members of Journey, Toto, Foreigner, Cheap Trick, The Rascals, Three Dog Night, The Turtles, The Who and many others. It’s a multimedia show with hit after hit, played by the guys who were there. They also give “insider information” about some of their experiences on the road. It is a fabulous show that will sell out.

I have some other shows coming that may not seem like cornerstones but deserve mentioning. We have two all-female groups coming: Women of the World in October, and Farewell Angelina in November. Watching each group perform, I knew they were the perfect fit for the Gracie. Women of the World, while having obvious timely appeal with regards to cultural diversity, is a quartet whose voices blend together like velvet, and whose stories and musical variety make for an outstanding event. Farewell Angelina is a band of Nashville powerhouses. After their performance in New York City, the audience was on its feet. They killed it! Their concert is filled with original songs, plus country and pop faves, but it is their vocal and instrumental talent that make them an absolute “must-see” for music fans, not just country fans.

While on the topic of vocal blending, I have tried for years to get Well-Strung to the Gracie and its finally happening in January. Well-Strung, as their name implies, is a singing string quartet. They take classical music and fuse it with pop music of today, so you hear some Taylor Swift, some Rihanna, Pink, Lorde, Madonna, Gotye, U2 and more. These guys are clever, super talented, and hard to pin down since they travel the country. I am psyched they made time to come to Bangor.

Equally exciting is the fact that we have two shows coming for return engagements! Coig, a Canadian Celtic group, brings back their popular “Celtic Christmas” show in December, and the wacky Sister from Late Night Catechism returns in February, educating us about venial sins, Holy Days, and the jobs of Saints. Part improv, part theatre and 100% hilarious.

We are fortunate that award-winning concert pianist, Fei-Fei, in the process of fine-tuning her Carnegie Hall program in 2020, has agreed to preview it for us on the Gracie’s Steinway B in February!

I definitely want to plug our Valentine’s date night offering of Wicked Divas on February 15. We have Glinda and Elphaba from Broadway’s Wicked, performing hits from many Broadway shows like Titanic, and Phantom of the Opera with a full band behind them. Patrons who want to meet these seasoned Broadway divas can choose the “champagne and chocolate meet and greet” ticket option.

Also boasting an incredible jazz band behind them is Natural Wonder. This Stevie Wonder tribute features the formidable Gabriel Bello, a #1 Billboard-ranked vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist. Alongside Bell is a band with the musicianship necessary to blow audiences away with their seemingly unending barrage of hit songs that span the Stevie Wonder catalog.

TME: This marks the eighth season for the Gracie – in what ways have things changed since that first year? In what ways are they the same? How has the whole thing evolved?

JM: Our price point has stayed the same for years. Gracie tickets remain affordable thanks to Husson and the support of our sponsors. Coupled with Bangor Savings Bank, our season sponsor for eight years running, as well as our show and media sponsors, we are able to present world-class shows, and charge well under $50.00 per ticket. If not for this community support, our prices would be much higher.

A change from the first year is attendance. With each show, we have “first-timers” to our theatre, who tell other friends about the Gracie and grow our audiences. We have also developed a loyal group of “Gracie Groupies,” who buy subscriptions to attend most of our shows. Our new “You Pick 4” plan is popular, allowing patrons to create their own season and save money.

We have evolved into a venue committed to presenting world-class shows, while earning the reputation of being an intimate venue where people can see performers “up close and personal.” One of the best parts of my job is standing in the Darling Atrium after each show, having patrons thank me for bringing a certain group to Bangor. It is rewarding to see faces light up when performers come out to meet patrons, take selfies and sign autographs. We strive to find events appealing to a range of tastes, but also to seek performers who are friendly, approachable and fan-oriented. Those artists are the ones who have the staying power.

With each live event I attend, I am reminded of the power of the arts, not only to entertain, but to inspire, uplift, and educate. It is truly exciting to be a part of the cultural growth of this region.

(For tickets for or more information about the 2019-2020 season at the Gracie Theatre, visit their website at gracietheatre.com or by calling the box office at (207) 941-7888.)

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