You may have noticed the programming at Saint Mary’s University’s Page Theater is a bit more visible these days.
It’s also sending a different message about its programming — that it’s available to the public, there’s a lot more offered than most people think, and they’re trying some new things to connect with the community.
That’s because of working with Engage Winona last year and realizing a few ways the Page Theater was lacking in communication to the Winona community.
“It was a great process,” said Theresa Remick, the managing director of the Performance Center — known by most as the Page Theater. “It was eye-opening to me. We learned a lot about perceptions of what we’re doing and a general lack of awareness about things that we’re already doing.”
They found that Winonans generally didn’t know what programming was meant for Saint Mary’s students and what was meant for the community, she said, adding that a lot of people didn’t know about the many community programs they administer too.
Since getting that feedback, Remick and the crew she works with have worked hard to tweak their messages to the community. One example is this year they traveled off campus to meet the community for a Page Series Season Kickoff event. Another is the newly created page on their Saint Mary’s website to talk about what opportunities there are to participate as a community member.
“A lot of people didn’t know we have free community programs,” Remick said.
There’s gatherings at the library for story time, there’s the “Page in History” program in partnership with the Winona County Historical Society, there’s workshops and master classes, and artist talks that include everything from lectures, demonstrations, and pre- and post-performance talks. New this year is a pen pal program they’ll be doing between students at the Riverway Learning Community and members of the Friendship Center.
And then of course there’s the Page Series programming itself.
Another thing they found through working with Engage Winona is how important it is to have a relevant link or connection between programming and the Winona community.
“Winonans really care about their community and engaging with their neighbors,” Remick said.
That can be a bit of a struggle when the performances the Page Series brings in are from around the world.
“We try really hard not to replicate what other events or organizations are already doing,” Remick said. “But we also want to make sure they find something relevant with themselves with it.”
Remick — who has been in the position at Saint Mary’s for three years — was made an effort to find ways for the community to connect or interact with the performance. But even though she’s focused on it since she started the position, some of her vision has just now started to come to fruition since performances have to sometimes be booked one or two years in advance — or more.
“I really look when I book a program if the artist can interact with the community,” she said.
There’s the Velveteen Rabbit, in which local kids have to the opportunity to be case in the ballet-based dance performance.
And there’s the Manual Cinema performance, which uses green screen and puppetry and other techniques to create a live cinema experience.
“You basically watch a movie happening in real life,” Remick said.
They’re also hosting a workshop related to that in which participants will have an opportunity to devise short, narrative shows on their own using the company’s equipment and puppets.
There’s one more thing the Page Series is trying differently this year. They’re looking to provide culturally specific performances that don’t just come to town, make an impact and leave. They want something a little more long term to help that impact build over time.
That’s why they’ve signed on with local dancer Sharon Mansur, photographer Fadi BouKaram, and artists Leila Awadallah and Leyya Tawil to create the Cedar Project to explore identity through the lens of Arab and Arab-American artists. The project will include workshops, community gatherings, performances and exhibitions that will last from October all the way until April of next year.
“So that’s something we really haven’t done before, the longer term duration and (partnering with a) local artist,” Remick said. “It’s a big undertaking for us, but it’s really exciting.”
Remick said she hopes that the change in messaging helps connect the community a little bit more to what the Page Theater does.
“I see art experiences as a way to bring people together,” she said. “I would really love to see Winona community members to see the Page Series as something that is available for everyone.”