by Marc Robin, Executive Artistic Producer, Fulton Theatre
According to one definition, it is the vernacular term for all aspects of the entertainment industry. Another definition states: The arts, occupations, and businesses that comprise the entertainment industry.
My definition…My life.
For as far back as I can remember the world of theatre has been my home. It started at age 4 and continues to the present day 56 years later. I have been a Performer, Usher, Box Office Manager, Telemarketer, Dresser, Dance Captain, Theatre Manager, Choreographer, Gift Shop Sales Manager, Writer, Singer, Composer, Director, Ensemble Member, the Scarecrow in Oz and a Valet Parker. I have been involved in this creative world in tap shoes, jazz shoes and pointe shoes. I have worn several administrative hats including Development, Marketing, Human Resources, Publicity, Education and Facilities. I have been a Dance Coach, Student, Adjunct Professor, Guest Artist and a humbled Actor awaiting an audition. Without question, the most rewarding, challenging and life sustaining identity is my current one as the Executive Artistic Producer of the Fulton Theatre where I switch out all the hats and shoes I have worn in my life on a daily basis.
I have been asked to write on the impact that the arts have on our community and our lives. To do that, I would like to break down the term “Show Business” as individual words. Only then can I really explain what the arts bring to us all.
Let us start with SHOW, because it is the most obvious.
When an audience member enters a theatre to “see” a show, they are attending for a myriad of reasons: it is a show they really want to see, they have been dragged there by a loved one, they heard it was really great and want to see for themselves, they heard it was really bad and want to see for themselves, they want to escape into the world of a fairy tale, they want to be inspired, they want to be challenged, they wish to simply be entertained, and many other reasons.
All the above examples have one thing in common, which many of our audience members do not even think about. They sit in our theatre and as the lights dim to darkness, they become a GATHERING of our community. They may have come in as an individual, a couple or a small group but they end up as part of a larger community for that show. They laugh, listen, applaud, breathe and cry as one with this new group as they experience a performance that is happening only for them. It’s what separates live theatre from film. This audience exists in that moment in time and for ONLY that moment, for that one performance. Never to be repeated.
Fulton Hall was built in 1852 as a space to gather our community and the Fulton Theatre (and all arts associations) continues that tradition to this day. This shared experience has an impact on every individual that they may not even be aware of. This collective experience is what the theatre is all about. It is why we do what we do and why we tell our stories. We want to reach the souls of those bodies in the dark and give them all that they hoped for, to present a story that enriches their life or makes them think differently. To entertain them so that a bad day can be forgotten and someone who may have drudged in to the show is granted the opportunity to dance down the aisles at the end. To create an experience that allows a child to believe that anything is possible and to inspire the adult to help create those possibilities. To push the boundaries of conversation by offering subjects and topics that excite and invite conversation that will last into the next day, the next week and, if we are lucky, change minds for the future.
The impact from a show is so much more than whether someone “liked” it, or not. It is about changing the collective soul of that audience in some way so that they are better (or changed) for having seen it. At least, that is our hope.
It is also to invite our entire community to be ONE and to see themselves reflected on the stage, in the faces of our actors and in the stories they are being told. It is a safe and remarkable room where every human is valued and seen.
The BUSINESS part of the equation is a bit more complicated.
Most assume that it is based on the financial income and expense of our industry. That is true, but there is more to it. Yes, there is the Economic Impact that any organization brings to its area. The Fulton generates over 20 million dollars of impact on our community. In 2003, the Fulton Theatre had the privilege of receiving the Lancaster Chamber’s Exemplar award, honoring the theatre for making a major impact on the community. That impact is partly comprised from the expenses we incur with local businesses as we build our sets, costumes, production and what is spent by our visiting artists. The majority of the Fulton’s Economic Impact however, is on the community’s use of hotels, transportation and restaurants. We gather over 180,000 guests in a season and they all contribute to the equation. We have hundreds of guests that travel to our area, stay in our hotels and experience our community. However, let me open this up beyond the Fulton and look at the big picture of many Artistic Organizations. The Fulton is actually one of the “medium kids on the block”. Sight & Sound Theatre brings in hundreds of thousands of audience members to our community; American Music Theatre has an enormous impact on the “other side” of Lancaster and we have dozens of arts organizations that all gather their audiences as a community. Fun fact, in 2017 Arts Organizations had an eight hundred seventy-eight BILLION-dollar impact on our Nation.
It is the “non-financial” part of the definition I would like to focus on, the collaboration between organizations. Community partnerships and sponsorships bring businesses together with the arts. For example, the advertising that though paid for unites that company with the arts. The business of education and the inspiration that we instill in our young artists to grow into the next generation of Jonathan Groff’s. Though there are funds exchanged for the service, when a child has grown because of the arts, it is priceless. They can speak with confidence because they have had a theatrical experience that taught them how to find and use their voice or gave them the inspiration a young adult may have to become a lawyer because they saw Legally Blonde. Which is a true story I was just told by a member of a recent group tour I was leading. When I said something about our production of Legally Blonde the guest told me that his daughter had seen the show as a child and is going into law because of it. I could go on and on with more examples but I do not want to ramble.
The most important point I would wish for you to take away from this is the following:
The arts ARE essential. We need them to excite our minds with creativity and wonder. We need them to allow us to reflect and discuss. To be entertained and to have conversation as to why we were (or were not) able to grow, to learn, to engage and to be excited.
The arts matter because WE matter and our stories matter.
I have been given the opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of the creative community of artists that make up the vibrancy of the Lancaster Arts Scene. Without question, it is also my most fervent wish to change the collective soul of our audiences with the work we present and the way we present it. I have had the honor of working at the Fulton for 20 years and I feel passionately that, during this time, I, along with the most amazing collaborators, artisans and employees have helped to bring the arts to a wider audience and to bring the Fulton Theatre’s name to a stronger national presence. I am proud that many of our audiences arrive at the theatre and are surprised at the beauty of our building as they enter our doors to see the show they have “heard about”. In the “old days”, they were coming to see the astonishing building they had heard about and to then to see the show.
For whatever reason you attend, please know how grateful every artist is to you for allowing our dreams to come true by telling our story, which is all of our stories, in this national historic treasure that is centered in the heart of this very special community.
The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. In the month of May, our content theme will be focused on arts and culture – sharing stories of our businesses and leaders contributing to the exceptional and unique experiences found here in Lancaster County. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine