DURHAM — American Dance Festival Director Jodee Nimerichter began to worry as she surveyed an empty dance studio one night last month. Not one of the 60 young men and women shed invited to learn about the annual showcase of modern dance had shown up by the starting time.
The gathering is one way Nimerichter was hoping to reach out to new audiences to spark interest in the 81-year-old festival opening its 36th Durham season Thursday.
The idea came from meetings with longtime supporters to brainstorm ways to attract 18- to 30-year-olds, a group under-represented at the box office. At one donors business, Nimerichter approached a young employee.
He had no idea what ADF was, she said, but after hearing about the different companies and performance styles, he suddenly responded, Its like every body tells a story. Out of the blue, hed become a marketing person for us!
Nimerichter turned the young mans observation into the logo for a new ADF T-shirt. She developed other marketing ideas based on his observation that he couldnt afford the tickets and he wouldnt want to go without someone else along who knew about modern dance.
Through her contacts, Nimerichter invited dozens in the targeted age group to meet at the festivals studios for refreshments and incentives. Just when Nimerichter thought the idea had failed that night, people began drifting in and soon nearly 30 invitees were noisily mingling and noshing.
Nimerichter asked attendees what made them decide to come. Durham resident Marc Wagenseil, 26, had a typical response.
Id never been to any kind of dance performance before, he said, and it seemed really risky to buy an expensive ticket to something I might not enjoy.
To counter such concerns, Nimerichter gave each person four free tickets and asked them to tell their friends about the performances they see. She also encouraged them to tell their friends about ADF Go, a new incentive offering $10 tickets to anyone between ages 18 and 30. A week later, Wagenseil seemed to be fulfilling Nimerichters fondest hopes.
Ive already started spreading the word about the tickets and people are blown away, he said. It feels good to tell people about an opportunity that has no hidden catch.
Despite the focus on younger audiences this season, Nimerichter wanted to make sure regular attendees were not overlooked. So half of the 24 companies and choreographers this season are returning from previous years, but each is presenting premieres, making the familiar also new. And for aficionados who are always ready for something different, 12 companies are appearing for the first time.
The schedule is also more flexible this season, with shows opening on every day of the week. Nimerichter hopes the wider range of performance dates will help to compete with the many summer entertainment options now available.
Nimerichter knows many people are still afraid they wont understand what they see.
Im encouraging regular attendees to ask friends and co-workers to go with them to a performance so they can explain things and make them more comfortable with modern dance, she said. With such a variety of performances, its rare not to find something that speaks to you.
That prediction is expressed in Nimerichters addendum on the new T-shirt. The fronts slogan, Every Body Tells A Story, is expanded on the back with Find Yours At ADF.