A 'buffet' of shows for the 2013-14 GBPAC season

Diversity is the goal when building a season schedule at the University of Northern Iowa's Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center (GBPAC). "Our basic program philosophy is that it's a buffet," said Steven Carignan, executive director, GBPAC. "We are not going to be the place if all you want to see is great dance, but there will be some great dance. We're not the place if all you want to see is great comics; we're not a comedy club. We're not a Broadway house. We are not a lot of [specific] things; we are a lot of [different] things." Building a season that pleases across the board is no easy task.

Beatles Tribute
A 2009 performance of RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles. This group will again be performing during the 2013-14 season.

It all begins with a standing list of hundreds of acts built through the years. From there, Carignan and his team hold weekly meetings, travel around the country to booking conferences, implement focus groups of different demographics in the Cedar Valley to form marketing plans, and spend months in negotiations with various performers and acts, determining prices and available dates. All in the effort to put together twenty-some shows that will serve the diverse audience of the Cedar Valley, and maintain a level of quality that has become synonymous with the GBPAC.

"Eventually, you end up with a well-distributed season," said Carignan. "We try to sell one to six shows to each customer." The 2013-14 season has everything from improvisational comedy, to Broadway musicals. "I think we are closer to that goal of having something for everyone."

Carignan and his team also try to create seasons that are conducive for attendees to try shows that they normally wouldn't. "[I] try and find a balance between what people know they're going to like, and with those shows, build the trust with the audience so they might try something they've never tried before." This all plays into the constant balancing act that he tries to maintain in the GBPAC seasons.

Along with serving a wide scope of people, Carignan likes to break the perceived rules of theatre. "One of the challenges of performance art centers is they are seen as very formal places. What I like is, dress the way you want and behave the way you want. As long as you're not bothering other people, there should be a large variety of behaviors that are acceptable." With this goal in mind, he has established events like the club series, featuring musicians Josh Thompson and Lisa Loeb this season.

Instead of the typical theatre seating, tables are set up and bars serving alcohol are placed in the halls. "It's a much more social and intimate experience," said Carignan. "The idea is, getting rid of the barriers. I'm a big fan of getting those barriers out of the way so people can just have that show experience."

Bonnie Raitt
Singer Bonnie Raitt is predicted to be a sell out performance this season.

It must be working. Cedar Valley Business Monthly named the GBPAC the 2013 Attraction of the Year, in which voters praised the center for its "quality programming" that offers "both familiar and new experiences." This is the second time since the venue opened in 2000 that the GBPAC has won this title.

"If you think about it, people don't think of universities as tourist destinations, so it's neat that the community sees coming to UNI [as a tourist] as a very positive experience and it's a great thing," said Carignan. "Instead of going to Chicago, and spending their money on hotels and dinner there, they will go out to dinner and spend their money here in the Cedar Valley, and that keeps the money here. That's what I like about it."

Tickets for the GBPAC 2013-14 season go on sale Aug. 1. These are Carignan's predicted sell outs: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bonnie Raitt, Mannheim Steamroller, Hello Dolly, RAIN - A Tribute to the Beatles, Dinosaur Train Live!, Million Dollar Quartet, Tom Cotter, The Hit Men and Bring it On: The Musical. He advises buyers to purchase tickets for these shows early.

For more information about the GBPAC and the 2013-14 season, visit www.gbpac.com.