When you think of Summerstage– what comes to mind? Beautiful summer days, the most stylish crowd in New York and amazing music! This year marks the 30th anniversary of the SummerStage with performances all over New York City at some of the most historical sites. TheCouchSessions will be on location all summer covering some of the hottest shows by such classic acts as the Lyricist Lounge, Biz Markie, and more. Summerstage covers all kinds of music – Yiddish Soul, Jazz – both neo and classic, and even has various dance performances and activities for the kids! According to the SummerStage press release, “SummerStage is New York City’s largest free performing arts festival, presenting work in all performing arts disciplines, with a focus on New York’s unique neighborhoods. SummerStage has touched the lives of more than six million fans from around the world. This year, Summerstage will step outside of Central Park and expand performances to be offered in neighborhood parks all around New York City and they state that they are “creating 6-day “mini-festivals” in 8 parks, featuring music, dance, theater, film, circus and family days. In total, this new model will add over 20 performances to the fourteen parks. SummerStage will be bringing more than 140 unique artists, such as Yiddish Soul, to these stages around the city.” For more specific festival information, Check out SummerStage 2015.
Recently The Couch Sessions spoke with Erika Elliott, Artistic Director of SummerStage. We asked her a few questions to get an inside look at what it takes to present such an expansive creative festival. Check it out
How did you begin to work with SummerStage?
I was hired in 2004, as Director of Programming for the festival, but had been booking shows and working in the entertainment and music world for 10+ years in a variety of capacities. Back then, my focus was on booking musical acts. Nowadays, I still oversee the music bookings but also focus on creating and curating the themes for the festival that make SummerStage such a unique and world renowned festival.
When does work and planning for the next year begin in terms of booking acts?
I am working on shows years in advance, trying to coordinate schedules with artist teams to fit our programming time frame. Currently, I’m already talking to people now about 2016 and beyond, but the formal booking process which includes contracting and other arrangements begins in the fall for the following summer.
What are some of the challenges that the internal staff face when having performances at various parks?
Weather is the number one problem, for the obvious reason that we don’t control it. We work on always getting the show up and running before the actual performance time, soundchecks, lighting checks and everything else but sometimes when showtime rolls around and the weather makes it a dangerous situation for the audience or artists, we just have to pull the plug.
How is the talent identified?
I aim to book a season that is representative of both the city, and the specific communities we program in. In Central Park I want the season to have as wide a variety as possible, and appeal to as diverse an audience as possible in 30+ shows. For our citywide season, I am also hugely interested in connecting New York artists to neighborhoods or boroughs they have a connection to. Talent is chosen with those things in mind, and then its based on touring schedules, and availability.
How many attendees (approximately) attended the very first SummerStage?
A few hundred. The event was pretty much a pop up show, so it was people passing by the bandshell and in the park already.
How many attendees are not from or living in the NYC area?
In the borough parks we are appealing to people who live in the neighborhood, bringing programming right to their backyard. In Central Park our reach is really the world, we see tourists from all over passing through, and New Yorkers from all over the city stopping by to catch a show.
Is there a larger goal or plan for expansion to other cities?
No, while we do think other cities can benefit from a festival such as SummerStage we are focused of New York and New York City Parks specifically.
What do you love most about working with SummerStage?
I love bringing music to people with no barriers, and celebrating the rich cultural diversity of New York City. There is nothing better than seeing the joy music and the arts brings people.
What do you feel is the one thing that separates Summerstage from other national festivals?
Location, and accessibility – the fact that all that we do is free and that we are the only festival to travel around the entire city, is one of a kind!