Brings World-Renowned Artists and Performances to the Greater Gainesville Community
London. New York. Vienna. These cities are world-renowned for their influence in arts and culture. One plane ticket can open the door to a plethora of classical concerti, Shakespearean tragedies, ballets and more. But for Gainesville residents, there’s no need for a plane ticket. Thanks to University of Florida Performing Arts (UFPA), world-renowned performances are brought to the Gainesville community on a regular basis.
For more than 27 years, UFPA has presented a wide array of artists and art forms as part of its mission to ignite cultural and artistic connections within the community.
“We look for artists who have something new to say,” said Brian Jose, Director of UFPA. “We still do traditional performances, but we also try to find works that exist on the cutting edge of art.”
The organization manages a multitude of venues, which include the Curtis M. Phillips Center, Squitieri Studio Theatre, University Auditorium, and the Baughman Center.
“We are a multidisciplinary presenter,” Jose said. “That means we do everything from jazz to singer-songwriters, contemporary dance to ballet, Broadway musicals to experimental theatre and more.”
The UFPA performance season runs from September to April each year with more than 40 events presented by the organization. Their four venues are also rented out hundreds of times each year by touring performers, local theatre and dance companies, and even for weddings.
One of UFPA’s unique performance offerings is the UpStage series, which started in 2016. By bringing performers and audiences onto the Phillips Center Main Stage, and transforming the space into a pop-up jazz club for the evening, they’ve created a live music series unlike any other in Gainesville.
“We try to emulate the great jazz clubs of New York like the Village Vanguard,” Jose said.
Each UpStage performance includes two sets, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. The first set offers complimentary hors d’oeuvres, while the second set offers complimentary dessert and coffee and the potential for a completely different set from the 7 p.m. show. Both sets offer a cash bar for ticketholders to enjoy.
“When the Band of Heathens was here, their 7 o’clock show was a mostly acoustic set and the 9 o’clock was more electric,” Jose said. “Only about four songs overlapped, and it allowed each audience to have a unique experience with the artists.”
Tickets for the UpStage events have proven to be popular, Jose said, with the majority of shows selling out early.
Finding new artists or material to present to the Gainesville community is quite a challenge, but it’s one UFPA has taken on and perfected to ensure community members keep coming back.
“Ultimately, my hope is for people in our community to trust what we offer,” Jose said. “They may not know the artist, they may not know the art form, but they know that it’s absolutely the highest caliber and absolutely accessible.”
In terms of size, Gainesville and its surrounding municipalities do not compare to cities like Orlando or Miami. However, the quality of work that UFPA incorporates into public performances and community outreach can stand on its own.
“Gainesville punches way above its weight, culturally,” Jose said. “We compete with cities 10 times our size with the type of artists that are on our stage, and not many cities our size can lay claim to something like that.”
Elizabeth Auer, Assistant Director at UFPA, looks forward to the organization’s continued commitment to outreach and helping students become well-rounded individuals.
“Last fall, we had Actors from the London Stage perform Shakespeare in a new interpretation,” Auer said. “A major factor in presenting this group, aside from the talent and inventiveness they bring to the table, was their dedication to outreach.”
The group of thespians worked on 17 different education activities with nine university departments, three local high schools and four community groups within the Gainesville area. These activities ranged from working with a trial law class on presentation skills to working with Parkinson’s patients on speech and breathing.
“So, [community outreach] goes beyond just a standard performance,” Auer said. “It’s about well-roundedness and how it can impact and improve one’s everyday life.”
As part of its Rural Arts Initiative, UFPA works closely with other community organizations to bring the performing arts to surrounding areas. Drummond Community Bank is a partner and sponsor for this initiative.
Chiefland is one of the North Central Florida communities with limited access to the types of art and performances that are found in Gainesville. In 2018, following the mission of the Rural Arts Initiative, UFPA worked with Chiefland Elementary to have accordionist Hanzhi Wang perform for more than 800 of their students.
“Students are learning great things through STEM programs, but creativity is still something that needs to be nurtured and encouraged,” Auer said.
In addition to these efforts, the Partners Program provides free tickets to members of the Greater Gainesville community who otherwise would not be able to attend their performances.
UFPA provides area residents and visitors the opportunity to experience the performing arts locally without sacrificing quality. Those committed to helping UFPA fulfill its mission on the stage and in the community can join the Affiliate Member program, which supports the performing arts and includes added benefits to members such as early ticket buying and priority parking at UFPA shows.
“The main benefit of being an Affiliate is that you’re supporting all of the programming that we do for UF Performing Arts,” said Shannon Sumerlin, Director of Development at UFPA.
Memberships range from the $100 Manager level to the $10,000 Benefactor level, with increasing benefits at each level. All Affiliates enjoy early access to ticket sales, advance notices of performances and a parking decal. Special Affiliate events and opportunities to meet select artists are available at certain membership levels.
“The Affiliate program helps us keep our ticket prices well below those in areas like Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville,” Sumerlin said. “We strive to make the performing arts accessible to everyone.”
The list of performers for the 2019/2020 season will be announced Tuesday, May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Curtis M. Phillips Center at UFPA’s Season Preview event. Affiliate Members can purchase tickets starting shortly after Season Preview, and tickets for the general public will go on sale on August 24th. For a full list of Affiliate buying dates, and more information about Season Preview, visit performingarts.ufl.edu