Contuining our celebration of the New Vic's new, vibrant lobby spaces, we sat down with our Director of Education, Public Engagement Lindsey Buller Maliekel. She shares with us how our old lobby was designed to make you wait, but the new lobby invites you to create!
You have an interesting title: Director of Education, Public Engagement. What is "public engagement?"
Public Engagement is a term we use to categorize all of the work that happens outside of our (amazing) school program. We focus on creating activities and experiences for New York City families that support and enhance the productions on our stages. We also manage the New Victory Youth Corps—programs that employ young New Yorkers in job development programs. Its a bit unusual to have a Director of Education position that doesn't focus on schools, but we have found that having a staff specifically focused on families and youth has allowed us to innovate and grow our programs in a way that breaks new ground for theaters! It comes down to the fact that we want our families to be just as supported and enriched as our school audiences.
How does the new lobby support your work?
This new lobby feels welcoming, adaptive and inspiring. After the renovations, we now have enough space to handle all of the people who want to engage in interactive activities before and after the shows. The space is also, generally, more comfortable now that we have furniture specifically chosen to support our performing arts-based work.
The most obvious change that audiences will notice are our new activity "canvases." Whether we're presenting theater, dance, opera, puppetry or circus, we can program these screens to support all of our family engagement activities. They'll be designed to serve every production—audiences will never have the same pre-show experience twice, from show to show! Another huge step forward for us is that we will have a teaching artist in the lobby for an hour before every show to support the interactive activities.
How are the pre and post show activities changing?
The FYI for 2010-11's Skellig
The New Victory Theater has always had some form of pre-show engagement. When we first opened, we had coloring sheets for kids or helped them make buttons. For the shows that would benefit from some additional dramaturgical information, we created small exhibits, called "FYIs" About nine years ago, we began creating pre-show events for groups of families that might not have attended the theater before, called "Bring Your Family." After a few years, these events got so big that they could no longer be contained in the event room. We faced a difficult choice—do we limit attendance or expand it? We asked ourselves: what would happen if we invited the entire audience to these events? We started choosing specific performances that invited the entire audience to participate in our pre-show events. Those performances started selling quite well and people would arrive EXTRA early to take part in these activities, called "Arts Express." Soon, we thought: wouldn't it be fun if every performance had some sort of activity related to the show? This thought transformed into the "Try This" series but soon we were longing for more space, more adaptive tools, and visual elements that were more inspiring for our family audiences.
With the new lobby, we can accommodate more audience members simultaneously. With more sophisticated tools to support our content, more ushers dedicated to playing with families and a teaching artist in the lobby before every single show, we're striving to create a truly interactive space for you to engage as a family before and after every single performance.
What are you the most excited about?
I am so excited that we are working with these talented teaching artists to create activities for every single show! The New Victory has an incredible ensemble of more than 55 teaching artists who are professional actors, playwrights, designers, dancers and clowns. With help from these teaching artists, families will not only be transformed by these amazing pieces of theater, but will also get to try it out for themselves!
Often, parents are concerned about exposing kids to screens too early and too often. Why did the New Vic decide to use screens in the new design?
We debated many ideas for how best to support the interactive activities. Our goal was to lasso the energy and adaptability of screens to make the in-person experience more engaging. We carefully designed the activities for families to play together—not to play with the screens. If kids want to learn how to juggle or adults want to create opera lyrics, we want to use the screens to better enable that interaction. Our staff has often said that if we walk into the lobby and families are staring at the screens like zombies, then we've failed. Our hope is that when we walk into the lobby, we'll see families referring to the screens to learn a new skill or to converse about the themes in the show.
Screens are a part of our world now—my own kids have no concept of a world without them. I think our new challenge is to use them in ways that inspire thoughts, actions and relationships. We thought long and hard about using touch screens, but ultimately decided that they lead to solitary interactions between one person and a screen. Also, we toyed with using technology that would be responsive to the actions of the people in the room, but realized that it limited how many people could experience it simultaneously.
Lindsey Buller Maliekel
We ended up focusing on screens that we could use as tools to support mainly analog, tactile activities. We didn't want the screens to be the most fun thing in the room—we want YOU to be the most fun thing in the room!
What three words would you use to describe the New Victory lobby of 2016?
Like the Velveteen Rabbit at the end of the book, our old lobby was beloved, heavily used and a bit creaky.
What three words would you use to describe the New Victory lobby of 2017?
Inviting, interactive and inspiring
Photos: Alexis Buatti-Ramos
||Don't be a stranger! Visit the new lobby when you join us for Jason Bishop: Believe in Magic. Back by popular demand after last season's sold-out run, Jason returns with even more tricks (and wry one-liners) up his sleeve.