By Megan Ockert
The Whiting, Flint’s Cultural Center performing arts venue, has announced its 2017/2018 schedule. It features shows such as Kinky Boots, Rain: a Tribute To The Beatles, Peter Pan, and Black Violin.
According to Whiting Executive Director Jarret Haynes, the season reflects both an emphasis on live performance and The Whiting’s goal of contributing to Flint in the wake of the water crisis.
In sizing up the new season, Haynes said he is passionate about the importance of art and live performances, describing them as “ethereal experiences.”
“When you watch something live, or even at a movie theater, you have more of a connection with the performance and the audience around you,” Haynes explained. To illustrate, Haynes points to a classic movie moment: Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star in the film Star Wars IV: A New Hope. “When Luke shoots at the Death Star and it blows up, everyone claps and cheers, they’re engaged. When you’re watching at home, you don’t do that.”
With over 20 years in the industry, Haynes, a downtown Flint resident, has been with The Whiting for four and a half years. He spent 16 years at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and graduated with a degree in finance from NYU. The Flint Cultural Center Corporation recruited him for the position of executive director.
The Whiting’s history begins with 1967
The James H. Whiting Auditorium, the original name of the theater, was dedicated and officially opened in the fall of 1967. Renovations in 1999 restored The Whiting to its former glory. According to the website thewhiting.com, Italian born artist and designer Harry Bertoia was commissioned to build and design the golden spherical structure, now called the “Golden Sun,” currently hanging in the lobby of The Whiting.
The 2,043-seat live performing arts venue has played host to a wide range of attractions over the years, such as the 2016 Democratic debate, comedy shows, Shakespeare performances, and classics like Cinderella, The Nutcracker, and Riverdance.
“Our mission is to present the full spectrum of live performing arts,” said Haynes. “We don’t want to just focus on one kind of event.”
Last month, The Whiting hosted comedian Dave Chappelle, who, according to Haynes, announced a $50,000 donation to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint during his charity performance on June 7.
The donation will help children exposed to the contaminated water in Flint as part of the ongoing water crisis.
Haynes spoke about how the water crisis has affected the staff at The Whiting, saying they “stand ready to do what we can for the Flint community.” He said while he’s proud of being part of a Flint organization, no community can be singularly focused on one issue.
“The water crisis has helped us deliver to the community of Flint, especially children,” said Haynes. “We want to keep them engaged, educated and involved. We have to be forward thinking.”
Success depends on community trust
Haynes further explained the success of The Whiting is dependent upon a certain “level of trust” with the Flint community. “We have to look at what’s out there, and decide what will resonate not only with Flint, but with any community,” said Haynes.
Haynes noted the impact of other major performance venues such as his former workplace, the Lincoln Center. Built in a gang-infested area of New York during the 1950s and 1960s, the Lincoln Center offers proof of the impact performing arts venues can have on communities, Hayne said.
“The Lincoln Center began as an urban renewal project,” he said. “And with the Flint Cultural Center and the reopening of the Capitol Theater in the fall, we are not only fostering economic growth for the Flint community, but also allowing people to be social and engaged within their community while experiencing a live performance.”
The Whiting partners with a “Preferred Restaurant of the Month” as a way to highlight different bars and eateries in the downtown area. Guests receive discounts before or after a Whiting performance by presenting their ticket stub.
Haynes cautioned it can be hard to get a table, saying residents like to make performances at The Whiting a full-fledged event that could include dinner downtown and drinks in the lobby, followed by live entertainment. “It’s all part of the experience,” he said. “This is a gathering place for community-wide events.”
For a complete list of performances for The Whiting’s upcoming season, go to thewhiting.com.
EVM staff writer Megan Ockert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.