Anyone can sit in an audience and watch a musical or a theatrical performance. But wouldn’t it be cool to experience backstage opportunities unavailable to average audience members? Of course it would, and convention and visitors bureaus are providing that thrill for groups all over America.
Maury County, Tennessee
A venue with a name like Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse and Bakery just sounds like it could be fun. Located in Columbia, Tennessee, 45 minutes south of Nashville, Marcy Jo’s is one of several fun and interesting places touring groups can visit for special prearranged, behind-the-scenes engagement with the local country music scene.
“It’s an old country store made into a restaurant,” said Becky Leifheit, group tour coordinator for the Maury County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A group comes for dinner, and we ask some songwriters to perform. There’s great atmosphere; people get a real feel for Southern culture.”
Leifheit said many different groups attend. Church groups are one of the most common.
Maury County is considered a bit of a songwriter’s haven. Other musical venues groups can visit are Puckett’s Grocery, another store and restaurant in Columbia, and Mount Pleasant Grill, in the town of the same name.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau developed a Live the Life Adventures program to give touring groups special handling when they visit.
“It gives groups a hands-on, interactive way to experience Virginia Beach’s attractions,” said Jim Coggin, tourism sales manager for the CVB.
One program is called Backstage Broadway and takes place at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. One of the resident companies does four or five Broadway-style shows per year.
“They allow groups to do a meet-and-greet with cast members before their performance and to go behind the scenes to see all the work that goes into a live performance,” said Coggin. The special guests also wander on stage, maybe see a rehearsal or go into the dressing rooms to learn about theatrical costuming and makeup.
High school performance groups visit Virginia Beach for spring break and take advantage of Live the Life Adventures. Besides the Sandler Center, other behind-the-scenes experiences offered are the culinary world and military history.
Curious about what it takes to stage a ballet? Experience Columbus recommends that groups plug into BalletMet Backstage, one of 70 personal experiences available from the CVB.
“Before the show, the dance company has a Q & A with group members and discusses life as a professional dancer, what kind of training is needed,” said Marceline Dyer, the CVB’s tourism sales manager.
The group watches the show and then goes backstage to tour the scenery, props and costume departments with a crew member. Then there’s a chat and photo opportunity with dancers. Another outreach program is BalletMet Open House, which is more of a year-round program. Even if the professional company is on break, the preprofessional company is available to give a peek into its world.
A group can also participate in a movement class.
“It gets you involved and is lots of fun,” said Dyer. “Relax. You don’t have to do a pirouette. Everyone ends up smiling and laughing.”