For Paul Chandler, executive director of the Germantown Performing Arts Center, a great performance is not something you simply witness–it’s something you feel. He hopes to nurture this kind of shared creative energy through a combination of technology, design, and art at GPAC’s new outdoor venue, The Grove.
Located in a grove of trees just north of GPAC’s original building, the new outdoor space will feature a stage with a hi-def moving screen designed to broadcast everything from background effects to films to simulcasted live concerts. The area will also include a new plaza, with spaces designated for eating, drinking, and hanging out.
The project itself has primarily been the brainchild of GPAC’s executive director, Paul Chandler. Having worked in the field of creative production for roughly 30 years, Chandler’s many and varied accomplishments poise him perfectly to head this new project. He’s worked on everything from the Live at the Garden series to the Peabody Rooftop Parties and the Country on Beale nights at Handy Park. This week, I sat down with Paul Chandler to hear more about his inspiration for the project.
I’m at the point in my life where I’m realizing that people are so much products of their prior experiences. I’ve been doing this a long time in a lot of different places, and I’ve found that what feeds me is the audience, without a doubt. I feed off of the energy and the excitement that people feel when they’re gathering together to share an experience and be entertained. When the audience isn’t having a good time and the energy isn’t there, I feel that…
When I asked him which aspect of the project he is most looking forward to, he responded without hesitation:
For me, I’m excited about figuring out the complex puzzle of how to make this outdoor experience exciting for the mass number of people who are attending. And it’s gonna be hard and scary because it’s got some new things with the video wall, these trees blocking sight lines, you know. It’s pretty small but we think it’s gonna be packed, so if we make it really comfortable and awesome, that’s gonna be so exciting for me. That’s what I’m gonna lose sleep over. The logistics of building it and designing it and producing the shows–I’ve done that ten thousand times, but what I’m really focused on here is the audience experience.
Though the GPAC team does not plan to break ground on the new development until September 15th, The Grove has already been a long time in the making. The team at GPAC started testing their ideas for a new outdoor music venue when they hosted their first ever Food Truck and Music Festival in 2017.
“We used social media to promote the festival and then to move it last minute because of this huge thunderstorm, and the powerful thing was that, even after we moved it, 2,500 to 3,000 people showed up to an event that had never occurred before and that had just been rescheduled. People went bananas for it, and that got us thinking, ‘Okay, we should do something outside.’ And that inspired us to start working on building something more permanent.”
Chandler credits his own inspiration for the design of The Grove primarily to three pivotal moments. The first struck him at an outdoor venue called The Hub in Florida, which was broadcasting Zac Brown live at the Ryman. The screen for the broadcast was anchored to the back wall of the stage, 40 or 50 feet from the audience–a distance which killed the crowd’s energy. The solution to this problem didn’t strike him until some time later, when he took his daughters to see the Chainsmokers live at the Fedex Forum. Their performance featured a network of screens which moved in all directions, creating a totally different experience for viewers. Chandler knew that he needed to reinvent the use of screens for The Grove, which led him to the idea of simulcasting: playing a performance happening inside the building in real time on the outside screen.
As he started to research the concept, he found that GPAC would be the third venue in the country to integrate this technology, with seven more (including the Kennedy Center) beginning similar projects within the next few years.
We realized it’s an innovative idea and we were encouraged seeing other very creative entities doing this similar kind of thing. It’s just fascinating to think about how we insert digital life into these performances, and at the end of the day it still feels like an organic performance created by people and for people.
This design will be instrumental in creating a new audience experience for visitors to The Grove. The space will appeal to people who want to experience the beautiful multidisciplinary performances offered by GPAC, but would prefer to do so from the comfort of a picnic blanket or folding chair. Chandler envisions the Grove as a place built for friends and families to gather and share a sense of community. Parents can sit back with a snack and a drink to enjoy the music while their kids have space to move and play, and groups of friends across all ages can get together and share an evening.
While the specific programming for the venue’s first season hasn’t been officially released, Chandler speaks of the future with excitement. He plans to feature a wide variety of acts and events, such as world music, concert movies, holiday programming, and even some national touring acts.
“I also love regional acts and locals–I’m a huge proponent to the Memphis music scene. I’ve been championing them and booking Memphis music acts for longer than I can remember. I consider them my friends and I would love for them to have another opportunity in the market to perform in front of people who will really appreciate seeing them.”
GPAC plans to host a soft opening in the fall of 2019, but will really come out of the gates swinging in the spring of 2020.