VoD: Redefining Denver's Venues

Denver Theatre District Executive Director David Ehrlich redefines the way we think of performance spaces. 
What is a venue?

The classic answer is an arena. An amphitheater. A club.

Ask a venue veteran though, and you get a more personal answer such as:

The Sade show at the Pepsi Center just a few days after 9/11. Ten thousand people gather to hear a beautiful Nigerian [Muslim] woman sing about love and loss.

A Red Rocks show in 1983 where an up and coming band played Sunday Bloody Sunday in the rain and fog in front of 4,000 people. (Later, 30,000 people insisted they were there).  

The first time seeing the circus with your kids as the lights go down and you see your life double back on itself as you remember watching the Ringling Brothers with your parents. 

The question in a competitive market and growing city, is: How do you create a meaningful venue?
The point: A venue is not just a building. It is a place where people gather and share a meaningful experience. 

Denver is lucky to have a wide variety of quality of venues. From the Pepsi Center to downtown street corners, people can enjoy performances from Denver's athletes and artists. 

The question in a competitive market and growing city is -- how do you create a meaningful venue?

The answer from a traditional and an emotional perspective is the same. The audience must experience consistency, quality, attention to detail and passion. 

Consistency. Define your space. A performance space can be an arena floor, a street corner, or a covered area in a public gathering place. Show people an area where they can be not only excited, but also comfortable and safe. 

Quality. Programming is not easy and people who innately understand what others will enjoy are rare. However, programming itself is not narrow. Programming can be music acts at the Paramount Theatre, art gallery showings and artists showing their work along 14th Street. 

Attention to detail. Next time you're in a large venue, look at the TV sets above the concession stands. Are they turned to the pre-game show? Are they showing team highlights, or did someone leave the TV on Dr. Phil? It may seem irrelevant to the experience, but it isn't. So much goes on behind the scenes for a performance that you cannot have a quality "place" for experiences without consistent attention to detail. 

Passion. Here’s a little secret that pisses off spouses the world over -- the venue world does not pay that well. Additionally, the hours suck and the food is marginal at best (for the workers that is). Yet everyone from the talent booker to the stagehand wants nothing more than for the crowd to have a special, magical evening. Passion drives careers that go for decades in this demanding environment. Passion dictates that you work for the moment just before the performance starts and the lights go down. 

These qualities can be found inside or outside. They can be found with bands you have never heard of on 14th Street in front of 35 people and with acts on the cover of Time magazine at Sports Authority Field in front of 70,000 people. As downtown Denver grows, the following are creative examples of non-traditional "venues."

Creating a New Sense of Venue
At the Denver Theatre District (DTD), we have made a conscious effort to utilize the corner of 14th and Champa as a venue. Our “concession” areas - Row 14, Crave and Organic Pizza – rival or exceed the quality of offerings anywhere else in Denver.  

Our programming has included dance performances, concerts and turning buildings into 3D digital art canvasses. Our “big screen,” which has shown UN commissioned Films for Peace, the Kentucky Derby, international art videos and X Box auto racing games, is 1,200 square feet of HD quality presentation.   

Finally, we have completely open seating -- any space on the street or sidewalk is your own personal “seat.”

The DTD is not alone in Denver’s alternative venue presentation however. The following have also been converted into alternative venue spaces: 

1. Mobile offices on Wazee Street and 17th Street

2. Matt Scobey's Not For Sale free art gallery, which installs art in public/private spaces throughout Denver with locations decided upon by social networks.

3. The Sauce Society changing the idea of a “bar” is by hosting a happy hour “everywhere, nowhere and somewhere in between, Denver, Colorado.”

Ultimately, people want to gather.  They want to feel safe, warm and comfortable. What Denver is showing is that they can do that in non-traditional ways in places that, at first glance, may not appear to be a what we think of as a performance venue.
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