SoundBox is a musical laboratory designed by the San Francisco Symphony to attract a younger, more diversified audience to classical music, increase the profile of musicians in the orchestra, and enhance and expand the institution’s brand without sacrificing artistic excellence. The SoundBox venue was designed to be as flexible as possible, transforming a retrofitted rehearsal space with moveable club seating and immersive lighting, video and audio. As the lead producer for its first three seasons, I solved new experience design challenges for every show. We discovered that when you strip away a lot of the things that make people uncomfortable (and add some cocktails), audiences will enthusiastically embrace complex and challenging material.
When I began working at the San Francisco Symphony in 2013, we were well aware of perennially declining attendance at orchestras (both in San Francisco and nationwide), driven by several barriers to entry for new audiences. It’s intimidating to sit politely still for a two hour-long parade of dense, unfamiliar music, and a lot of people were choosing more engaging options for a night out. While we tackled a lot of these issues head-on in the SoundBox project next door, I took full advantage of my “day job” as Associate Director of Artistic Planning to run a number of sneaky little experiments in other areas.
America’s oldest and most venerable orchestra could easily have rested on any number of high points in its celebrated history. However, under music director Alan Gilbert, the organization strove for new iconic moments by playing in venues across the city, working in new mediums, and finding new ways to tell stories about classical music. As an associate in the Artistic Planning department, my job was to figure out how to make it all fit on stage, stay within budget, and start on time. After three seasons, I left with a wealth of experiences that gave me the confidence to blend artistic goals of the highest caliber with a healthy sense of adventure.