Imagine 2020 explores meaningful engagement with Millennials

Imagine 2020 Speaker SeriesPhotos from the DCPA’s presentation at the city’s Imagine 2020 Speaker Series. To see more, click the forward arrow on the image above. All photos by
Steve Hostetler Photography, used by permission.

At the city’s recent Imagine 2020 Speaker Series, two of the Denver Center’s most accomplished Millennials were invited to talk about ways of meaningfully engaging with, well … other Millennial audiences.

A Millennial is generally considered anyone ages 18-34. And as a generation, they are as maligned as they are coveted. In a sensational 2013 cover story, Time Magazine labeled Millennials as “The Me-Me-Me Generation,” calling them “lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents,” before conceding one all-important truth: “And they will save us all.”

At a time of rapid cultural and technological change, the future of nearly every existing industry from newspapers to the performing arts depends to varying degrees on capturing the imaginations – and the economy – of Millennials. All you have to do is look at a census. Nationally, Millennials just became the largest generation in America at 75 million, having just surpassed boomers at 74.9 million.

Millennials are a particularly important demographic in the Denver metro area, which now has the fifth-largest Millennial population per capita of any major U.S. city at about 900,000. (No. 1 is Austin, Texas, followed by Salt Lake City).

Imagine 2020 is the city’s first effort to produce a strategic blueprint for the future and priority of arts and culture in nearly 20 years. As part of its Oct. 12 Speaker Series, the DCPA’s Charlie Miller and Brianna Firestone were asked to present some of the conclusions the DCPA has gleaned from ongoing research into the local Millennial population it has been conducting as part of a four-year grant from the Wallace Foundation.

“We’re all about learning how we can continue to build audiences and sustain our art form in the future,” Firestone said at the all-day forum held at the McNichols Civic Center Building.

She and Miller offered an intriguing window into what Millennials might want as cultural consumers. And busted a few enduring myths.

Miller, whose official title is Associate Artistic Director for Strategy and Innovation, is the Harvard-trained curator of Off-Center, the DCPA’s signature line of nontraditional programming that is geared toward younger and more adventurous audiences. Firestone is the Theatre Company’s Marketing Director. Both were key players in Off-Center’s recent first foray into immersive theatre. The groundbreaking Sweet & Lucky, which was staged in a 16,000 square-foot warehouse in the RiNo neighborhood, became the largest physical undertaking in the nearly 40-year history of the DCPA.

Much of Tuesday’s presentation was based on lessons learned from bringing Sweet & Lucky to life. That was an original piece created in partnership with Third Rail Projects of New York, which specializes in off-site, interactive theatre. DCPA crews crafted more than 20 unique playing environments ranging from a graveyard to a drive-in to a swimming hole. The story began in a speakeasy antique store. Audiences were broken into smaller groups that each followed one of three couples through key moments in their life’s journey. Eventually, they were all led into a secret bar that was run by mixologist Sean Kenyon of Williams & Graham, where audiences could talk with one another about their necessarily different experiences.

Sweet & Lucky was a rousing success for Off-Center, with more than 6,000 attending, at just 72 at a time, to make for an even more intimate experience. The run was extended by six weeks and in the end, 89 performances sold out.  That show drew a much younger average demographic than most DCPA programming.

Now Off-Center’s challenge is to keep the momentum going with its next off-site venture – a just-announced partnership with the Denver-based comedy trio A.C.E. on a new production to be created at the Stanley Marketplace in the spring of 2017. “The goal is to create a show that gives the audience a lens to view this story that is happening in and around all these restaurants and shops,” Miller said.

Detailed takeaways from the DCPA’s ongoing research will be released upon completion.

Photos above: Charlie Miller and Brianna Firestone make their presentation at the city’s Imagine 2020 Speaker Series. Also: Two faces in the crowd. Photos by Steve Hostetler Photography, used by permission.

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