By Sophie-Anais Renois and Kaela Kilfoil
Say hello to the innovative mindset that is being brought to LIU’s Tilles Center for the Performing Arts, under the direction of the new Executive Director, William “Bill” Biddle.
Biddle, who joined the Tilles Center on Jan. 4 of this year, has brought a “new spark of creative energy to the Tilles Center” said Sharon Maier-Kennelly, the Tilles Center’s general manager and director of programming initiatives.
Biddle moved to New York from Virginia and began his career at Post after Elliott Sroka, the Tilles Center’s former executive director, retired in July 2015 after 29 years.
In his short tenure so far, Biddle has already brought helpful improvements to the center, such as the addition of new dressing rooms for the performers. The upgrade and renovation of the dressing rooms has been Biddle’s biggest project so far. His devotion to expand the demographic of the audience has also led to more success in the audience’s turnout.
“[Biddle has a] commitment to the community engagement… meeting people at their churches, clubs, [etc],” said Susanna Stickley, director of marketing and communications.
Expanding the demographic is important to Biddle because the demographic of people who attend Tilles Center productions is constantly changing. He feels it is important to look at the programming that they have and make sure that it matches the changing demographics on Long Island. Classical music is a staple for the Tilles Center, but Biddle is devoted to expanding the Center’s involvement with contemporary music, thus expanding the age demographic of people who attend Tilles Center events. Classical music will remain a staple at the Tilles Center even with the new involvement of contemporary music.
Traveling music has also been put into plan. This is the idea of incorporating national Broadway tours, only furthering the reach the Tilles Center can have. Biddle also wants to have more interaction with other departments on campus. The Tilles Center has put a focus on working with departments in the arts and communications programs. Master classes can assist with the collaboration between departments, as well
as free tickets that are offered to students if a professor is teaching work related to the show. The Tilles Center also tries its best to provide speakers that can coincide with classes that are being offered at the university. Master classes, which are classes for students that are taught by professionals, are now also being offered through the Tilles Center in a new supported program called “vocalocity.” The Tilles Center introduced the new musical phenomenon “acapella” to the campus with the assistance of Deke Sharon, the musical director and arranger for the film Pitch Per- fect. Acapella is a popular form of music, which involves the use of only voices as instruments. Vocalocity will have a one-time performance on Jan. 20, 2017.
In addition to the master classes, Post is re-introducing the four-part “Speaker Series” which “haven’t been done [at] Post in seven or eight years,” according to Maier-Kennelly. The “Speaker Series” will broaden the demographic of the audience who attend shows. The series is open to both Post students and the general public.
Upcoming speakers in the 2016-2017 season include Linda Ronstadt (singer), Billie Jean King (former professional tennis player), Neil Degrasse Tyson (astrophysicist), and General Colin Powell (former US Secretary of State). The speakers will discuss their lives and experiences and educate the audience about who they are and what they are passionate about. These speakers were chosen because of their reputation and appeal to the public’s wide demographic.
In addition to programming for adults, “We have a big children’s program for both families and for education [purposes],” said Stephanie Turner, the director of arts education. “The arts education program serves over 10,000 students per year [by showing] performances that happen [while the students are] on a field trip… we also go into [the students’] schools. We take dancers, actors, and musicians into schools all over Long Island.” Next year, this program will serve 18 schools on Long Island in 10 different school districts.
The Tilles Center also plans community programs where “a dancer will be sent from a company to a senior citizen center or a local dance school,” Turner said. These dancers work alongside community members and put on a show at the end of the program. These programs have been around since the Tilles Center opened and they continue to be valued in the Center’s overall mission. That mission is “to have a broad reach with all of the local population,” according to Turner.
The Parson’s Dance Company, a New York City-based modern dance company specializing in contemporary dance will be teaming up with the Tilles Center to work with autistic children. This one-time performance will take place on Jan. 28, 2017.
One of the strong aspects of our mission is [for the Tilles Center to be at] the highest level of professional performing arts. Ensembles that you would see in Lincoln Center, or London, or Amsterdam, or you might see in China or Japan all do come through here,” said Susanna Stickley, director of marketing and communications. “So we do really try to be global and bring artists in from every continent, except Antarctica and that’s only because penguins don’t travel,” she added, with a chuckle.