Frequenters of James Madison University’s Forbes Center for the Performing Arts may have already noticed a small blue box boasting the phrase “Forbes Family Fun” on the center’s website.
That playful rectangle symbolizes the center’s New Year’s Resolution, if you will — its focus on getting more families into the center’s doors. But it’s not just for 2014; Forbes Family Fun represents an amplified spotlight on quality family events from here on out.
Since the Forbes Center on South Main Street opened in the fall of 2010, the performing arts hub has featured many child-friendly, fun-for-all events such as the two annual “Children’s Playhouse” performances, but it’s looking in that direction even more now, according to Executive Director Regan Byrne.
Although virtually every show at the center is family-friendly, “Forbes Family Fun events are specifically designed and focused on that demographic,” she said, explaining that there’s an “increased effort to book ... family-focused events.”
“It’s important for our mission to reach out to a variety of demographics, one of which is young families with children,” said Byrne. That’s not just for audience development, she added, but also to adhere to the center’s commitment to introduce children to the arts.
“They become audience members that support the arts [later in life],” she said. “People who don’t experience the arts at a young age are less likely to become advocates.”
Not only is the Forbes Center adding more high-quality, family-friendly programming to this year’s schedule, but it’s also focusing more on sharing artists with the community, so to speak.
“Our goal always is not only to have these artists provide master classes, [but also for] some of them to go out into the community and have our schools or community members get to experience these artists outside of a performance environment,” Byrne said.
For example, the first designated Forbes Family Fun group — Step Afrika!, which will perform Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. — will work with 75 fourth-graders at Stone Spring Elementary School outside of the Forbes Center show.
“Not all [performers] will go out, but certainly we’re going to make that a priority,” Byrne explained. “We’re … trying to be as active as we can.”
C. Brian Williams, founder and executive director of Step Afrika!, a Washington D.C.-based company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, says the upcoming performance at the Forbes Center — the first for his group — will be “highly interactive and perfect for families.”
“We’re really trying to turn the theater into a community where everyone can make music together,” he said. “We encourage the audience to make music with us throughout the entire performance.”
Other upcoming performances will be interactive, as well. For example, a Royal Tea party will accompany the Jan. 18 performance of “The Frog Bride,” the second Forbes Family Fun event this year.
A March 5 performance by Hubbard Street 2 Dance Chicago is a one-hour program “specifically targeted to young people,” Byrne said. “They literally walk you through the whole process so that you get to see the dance from start to finish.”
Byrne, who has been with the Forbes Center since April 2010 — before it opened to the public, called the current season at the event center “extraordinary.”
“Since September, we’ve seen super excited audiences and people really starting to see the Forbes Center as their arts home away from home,” she said.
She called the work at the center since it opened “a labor of love.”
To look for upcoming Forbes Family Fun events, visit jmu.edu/forbescenter or call the box office at 568-7000.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or email@example.com
The four major Forbes Family Fun events scheduled for this spring are as follows:
Jan. 14 at 8 p.m.: Step Afrika!
Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.: “The Frog Bride,” starring David Gonzalez, with a Royal Tea party on Jan. 18 at 12:30 p.m. to include tea and the 2 p.m. performance
Feb. 16 at 2 p.m.: Really Inventive Stuff starring Michael Boudewyns and Special Guests featuring performances of “The Story of Babar” by Jean de Brunhoff, “Toy Symphony” by Mozart and “Duet for Two Cats” by Rossini
March 5 at 7 p.m.: Hubbard Street 2 Dance Chicago