Cultural Preview: Kravis Center

No cultural season is complete without at least one visit to the Kravis Center, and that’s being conservative. As the go-to performance space for touring artists and the home of many regional companies, the Kravis Center is Palm Beach County’s cultural mecca.

This year the venue celebrates 25 seasons of show tunes, arias, laughs, and tears.

When the Kravis Center officially opened in September 1992, current CEO Judith Mitchell was already a veteran of the organization, having joined as the director of development in 1989. With the Kravis’ twenty-fifth season in full swing and more shows on the way, Mitchell spoke with about her relationship to the organization and what production she can’t wait to see.

Kravis Center CEO Judith Mitchell. (Photo by Capehart) You’ve been at the Kravis Center since the beginning. What attracted you to the idea of joining an arts organization in its infancy in order to build it from the ground up?

Mitchell: I was attracted by the fact that there was a lot of arts interest here, and yet there was no real single performance space that was adequate. The community seemed to have rallied around having this type of venue. I’ve also always felt that performing arts centers like ours are a catalyst for community development and urban development and, obviously, there was an interest in downtown development at the time. We were sort of out here all by ourselves at the beginning. There was no CityPlace, there was no Convention Center. A lot of our city and county leaders have been very generous in their comments to say that they really fell the Kravis Center and its location here contributed to all the development that followed.

What’s your favorite space at the Kravis Center?

I’m very attracted to our Rinker Playhouse and Persson Hall because those [shows] are typically much more intimate, sometimes avant-garde, performances that aren’t frequently known. I love all the spaces for different reasons. I love our main Dreyfoos Hall because of the wonderful acoustics and the scale of what is presented there. After 27 years, I still never tire of the goosebumps that come from some of those Dreyfoos Hall performances.

Continue to page 2 to find out what Mitchell is most looking forward to seeing this season.

What factors do you consider when booking visiting shows to the Kravis Center?

Diversity of performance is very important to us. Our mission at the Kravis Center is to enhance the quality of life in Palm Beach County. … Our goal is to be a community gathering place. In order to do that, we’re really looking at programming that provides something for everybody. It’s hard when you realize that some performing arts centers are known to be dance houses or an opera house. Our artistic profile is to be very eclectic and offer something for everyone. And we listen to the community. We’re looking at what the community wants to see and we listen to them. We do survey our community periodically, and sometimes we’re surprised at what they tell us they want more of. For example, we did a survey several years ago in which the community told us they wanted more comedy, and that surprised us. Our season brochure for this year also is just chockful of things that would appeal to all different age groups and demographic groups. Like all arts organizations, we certainly are hoping to grow and enhance our relationship with younger audiences. That’s always a real challenge, but we take that pretty seriously.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this season?

That’s very tough, because there’s so much great stuff. Lee Bell, who is our senior director of programming, really is an artist. I always say Lee is sculpting a season. And the truth is, you can’t work here all day and be here all night, every single night. I am certainly interested in our Broadway series, which is phenomenal. I’m anxious to see An American in Paris. I’m a big dance fan, and the Kravis Center participated in producing that show, so we’re anxious to host that here.

Also, I’m really excited about our gala performance. It’s a show that Lee is putting together and we’re producing it. Michael Feinstein will be our master of ceremonies, and he’s putting together a whole host of really talented people, including Cameron Carpenter, Alan Cumming, and Patti LuPone.

What goals are you setting for the next 25 years? How would you like to see the Kravis Center continue to grow?

One of the things we’re looking at is an entire effort to improve the customer experience. Our board did a strategic planning retreat exercise, and they went through everything [and] they focused on ways to make the customer experience and the customer service pieces easier through the use of  technology. How do we make it easier to buy a ticket? Or, to be online? Or, to pick up tickets? Or, to come and go to the Kravis Center? Everything from how you park to how you valet to how you get refreshments at our bars. It was all about increased customer service and customer experience. So I suspect there will continue to be a big focus on that, and 50 years from now one will be asking the CEO at the time how well have we delivered on that. I think it’s the community that will answer that question.

How would you describe the essence of the Kravis Center and what it provides to the community?

The Kravis Center really is a destination for everyone. We want to be thought of as a place for special occasions—certainly for entertainment and culture—but we’re also sometimes the place for first dates, or for wedding anniversaries and special birthdays. We recognize that [members of] the community really feel like the Kravis Center is theirs. It has become a wonderful, welcoming community gathering place.

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