Smyrna Opera House Board President Judy McKinney-Cherry counts 2013 as a big success. However, it wasn't without change. The executive director left. A long-term lease with the city was put in place. But, now what?
The Smyrna Opera House has spent the better part of 2013 making sure its community knows where to turn for its creative outlet. But, the year's not over and board members are not only reviewing what's worked (and what hasn't), they're also looking at 2014.
It's a process that SOH Board President Judy McKinney-Cherry says the board is almost always engaged in. However, when Executive Director David Keller left in November, the board saw an opportunity to re-evaluate everything: what's working, what's not and what the opera house should do next year.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The most immediate and pressing task is finding a new executive director. The good news is that the board has an aggressive goal to have that person in place by the end of January, if not before.
"We closed the application process on Nov. 15 and started weeding through them," Mc-Kinney-Cherry explained last week. "We narrowed those applications down to the top 10 candidates and set up Skype interviews."
Using Skype, a free voice-over-IP and instant messaging service, for the initial interview was a strategic move to illustrate the sort of basic technological savviness that the candidates needed to move forward in the hiring process.
The last Skype interviews were done Friday and from that group, McKinney-Cherry expects to bring two or three final candidates to Smyrna for face-to-face interviews in the coming weeks.
"The goal is to be done with the entire process by the end of the first week of January," she said. "Then, hopefully, that person will be in place by the end of January. But, we won't settle. We're not going to just throw a warm body at it. It has to be a good fit."
McKinney-Cherry is immensely proud of the year the opera house has had because a good year for them translates to a good year for the community.
"We've been trying to make sure people know that we're not just a venue," she said. "We're a community resource. We are the community. I mean, we bring in quite a few traveling shows but our niche is that more often than not, when you go to a show at the opera house, you're going to get to see your community."
This year, much of the community was seen onstage at events like "Smyrna's Got Voice," theatrical endeavors like and the locally written and produced "Five Reasons" and its own 10th anniversary celebration in April.
However, she added that the board is open to any idea, as was evidenced in the implementation of several new programs this year, from the addition of four "open mic nights" to a new community chorale.
Need more evidence? One local reached out and asked for a jazz show. SOH was receptive but wary. Previous jazz shows haven't done well in ticket sales. McKinney-Cherry doesn't like to linger on past problems, though, when a solution is right in front of her.
She implemented a new program. When someone brings an idea to SOH, they now need to be prepared to be the "emotional sponsor" of that program. In the case of the jazz show, that person went out and found two sponsors and sold tickets to ensure its success. Emotional sponsors might also handle promotion or talent recruitment. Mostly, it's about seeing the idea through, from start to finish.
In seasons past, SOH has only planned partial schedules. For the 2013-14 season, they decided to plan out an entire year, leaving room for additions as they come up.
McKinney-Cherry couldn't be more excited. She sees possibilities everywhere, for both the opera house and the community. Mid-way through the month, the Nashville-based, up-and-coming Americana band Wild Ponies will breathe youth and indie cool into the venue by stopping by during its North American tour. Fresh off a successful European tour in October, the duo—that's often a trio, thanks to the inclusion of a drummer—sings its own material, infusing moody melodies with growls akin to Lucinda Williams and toe-tapping fiddle-playing.
Another event, recently added, is "Taste and Tunes." Paul Cullen, the former 1990s bassist for Bad Company has rented out the space for a one-of-a-kind experience that combines the musician's two loves: music and wine. The show will likely highlight his affinity for music that combines jazz, Latin, country and Mediterranean sounds with the catchiness that pop music often provides. While listening to his music, guests will also have the opportunity to sample a small selection of wines from Cullen's private wine label, Sonata, like the Sonata Rosso, a red, or the Sonta Rosé, a white wine.
McKinney-Cherry likes the diversity of those two acts and says they represent the diversity of SOH's schedule as a whole in 2014. Her plan is to keep that diversity alive and bring people, especially more young people, to the opera house. In particular, people who haven't been there before.
"Establishing more partnerships and collaborating with other venues to tap more artists coming through town is one of my goals," she said. "We just want to see more people utilizing the opera house. I just want people to be as excited for the possibilities of it as I am."