Whither the orchestra goeth, the audience must follow

Erica Minton

“If patrons need me to fireman carry them to their seat, I’ll do it.” – Erica Minton (Photo by AJ Waltz)

‘Experience junkie’ Erica Minton leads the way to the Taft

By Annette Wick

Erica Minton wasn’t looking for a new role with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In fact, the CSO’s director of single-ticket sales was looking to move to Denver.

But then came the intriguing prospect of helping the orchestra navigate its move to the Taft Theatre during Music Hall’s $135 million reconstruction. As interviews for the transition role proceeded, Minton, who then was the CSO’s director of single ticket sales, began to wonder if she might be the ideal candidate.

Management sought someone willing to join CSO for two years, handle marketing of the transition for subscribers, then move on when Music Hall reopens in 2017. If she stepped into that role, Minton could be open about her plans to move and be available to assist her successor in her old role.

“I was already living in the transition with the rest of the team,” she said. “I figured this might just be what I need. I wasn’t ready to go. I love this job. I felt like I found my place, working with a mission-based arts organization.”

Minton was thrilled when she landed the temporary position.

A different perspective

Unlike many of her CSO colleagues, Minton has no background in music or performance. But she is convinced her bachelor’s degree in creative writing/poetry qualifies her to appreciate music in a different way.

“Most people don’t sit down to read a musical score, and turn the page, and say, ‘aha!’ Like poetry, music – classical music – is meant to be experienced alive and performed.”

Minton believes the lack of a musical background suited her previous role in single-ticket sales. She was her own target market.

“The subscribers all know music. They know their tastes,” she said. But single-ticket buyers want to sample and experiment.

“That I can relate to and help sell.”

Minton also read a lot of Wikipedia and tapped the staff to teach her more about the music.

“I could pass a 101 class. But part of the challenge is breaking down barriers. You can’t just know Beethoven for the first time. You have to listen over and over. Single-ticket buyers need to be educated that appreciating music is a process.”

Eliminating barriers for patrons

She has led the CSO’s marketing transition for nine months now and is keenly aware of her greatest challenge. “No other major orchestra has managed a move without double-digit (percentage) losses of subscribers. Our goal is to be the first to not have that loss.”

When asked about the more interesting questions that have arisen from subscribers, Minton noted, “I don’t minimize their needs and questions. I respect their concerns. I try to keep looking at things from their perspective.

“Our patrons are loyal. Moving to a new neighborhood will upset their rhythms. Patrons know the place where they park, where they eat and where their seats will be.”

Western & Southern Financial Group eliminated one major barrier. Near the Taft, the Queen City Square Garage offers 2,250 spaces and multiple access points. All subscribers will be offered free parking beneath the tower, thanks to a generous donation from Western & Southern.

The streetcar also will alleviate parking concerns. “Central Parkway is still like a canal no one wants to cross. But the streetcar will be open, so if patrons fell in love with restaurants in Over-the-Rhine, the streetcar will lead them to that option.”

That highlights another facet of Minton’s job: making sure subscribers see OTR and downtown as one locale. She works with the restaurants in both neighborhoods to provide information about the shift.

Much about the Taft Theatre, built in 1928, is different from Music Hall. For one thing, the Taft seats a third fewer guests. “The interior layout is a different shape,” Minton said. “The architecture is Art Deco. All the aesthetics are different from Music Hall.”

In 2010, CSO subsidiary Music and Event Management took over management of the Taft and gave it a $3 million upgrade in preparation for the switch. The Taft now has greater accessibility, air conditioning and more comfortable seats.

Where patrons see confusion, Minton sees a long-term plan put into place. “We have thought through the first 10 major problems, and will work through the next 600,” she said, “but until we occupy the space, we can’t know what we missed.”

Poet and ‘experience junkie’

Minton talks of poetry’s intersection with her job. “I have no prose in me,” she said. “I am 100 percent poet. But I haven’t written much poetry lately. I write a lot on the job. I am so creatively fulfilled by my job and come home empty.”

She has been published in Express Cincinnati and was a winner of the Public Library of Cincinnati’s 2013 Poetry in the Garden contest. “I don’t write about big themes with social impact,” she said. “I am more of a ‘mouth’ poet. I enjoy the wordplay, the internal rhymes. She quotes her own poetry:

“Clyfford Still / You’d love the concrete house they built / for you, Clyfford, the sunlight sifting in /like clean flour.”

[Editor’s note: The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, dedicated to the Abstract Expressionist’s work, is concrete, with a perforated ceiling.]

“I cut my teeth on Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare. It’s like a cerebral game for me.”

Minton looks for form in her food, too. She mentions a few of her favorite restaurants. The Littlefield for its chicken pot pie, and Melt, both in Northside. She and partner Dan will host their wedding dinner at Sotto in June. She visits a restaurant and takes it all in. How is it presenting itself? What is its energy? “I’m an experience junkie that way.”

Minton as “experience junkie” will play well for CSO subscribers during the move from Music Hall. She will ask subscribers the same questions she asks of restaurants: “What is the energy?  How are people responding?”

“And if patrons need me to fireman-carry them to their seat, I’ll do it.”

As for the future she and Dan envision? “We both see ourselves coming back someday. Cincinnati has nothing but potential. But we’ll come back with new ideas. And that is what makes a city great, embracing the new ideas.”

Annette Wick is an Over-the-Rhine based writer, teacher, connector and author of the blog, gettinmycityon.wordpress.com.


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