This past January, the Arizona Commission on the Arts invested $119,000 in 16 arts-focused ventures at regional fast-pitch events held in four Arizona cities. Over the next two weeks we’ll be checking in with some of those ventures to see how they’re progressing.

Last week we caught up with Gretchen Baer’s Paint Your Town!. Today we look at one of the top grantees from the Eastern Region competition: ProMusica Arizona.

The staff of the Arts Commission wasn’t sure what to expect when the ProMusica pitch team arrived to the dress rehearsal for Arizona Art Tank with a laptop connected to a 42″ television and spent a good portion of their rehearsal time typing on their phones. To be honest, we were a little worried. We shouldn’t have been. ProMusica Arizona knew exactly what they were doing.

IMG_8661The pitch opens with the entrance of Henry Hicklebee, a young adventurer preparing to embark on a globe-spanning journey of personal discovery. His adventures, the audience learns, will be accompanied by a live orchestra, and each leg of his journey will be chosen by the audience, in real-time. So, where will he go first: Russia or Spain?

IMG_8656At this point, the masterminds behind the venture introduce themselves and the cell phone-based voting technology that will make this “choose your own adventure” concert possible. The audience is invited to send a text message to one of two numbers, one representing Russia, the other Spain. On the television screen, we see their votes instantly tabulated. The Art Tank audience has spoken: Henry is heading to Spain!

The Art Tank evaluation panel cast their own vote in favor of ProMusica Arizona, awarding them a $5,000 grant to help realize this innovative production.

The Unpredictable Adventures of Henry Hicklebee will be presented on April 18 and 19 in Paradise Valley. ProMusica’s Executive Director Yvonne Dolby was generous enough to take a break from rehearsals to speak with us about the venture, the pitch and ProMusica’s commitment to innovation.

What was the experience of preparing and delivering your pitch for Arizona Art Tank like for your team? 

The hardest part was definitely how to convey such a large amount of information and the complicated concept in the allotted time.  This also influenced how we went about doing the pitch, deciding to have the technology there to demonstrate the voting was crucial to showing how it will work, which saved a lot of time from “explaining” how it will work.  We wanted people to feel like they really understood the concept, and thought the best way to do that was to demo it.

Beyond the grant, what, if anything, has your organization taken away from the experience of preparing for and pitching at Arizona Art Tank?

IMG_8855Art Tank proved to be a team-building experience with a number of people involved to write the initial proposal, prepare and rehearse the 6-minute pitch, assemble the necessary technology, and deliver the presentation. We also had more than 25 musician members and patrons who attended the Art Tank event to support our organization. The Art Tank award is a real source of pride for our organization and its members. As we publicized the grant, we generated media interest in the show. Further, the competition was a great opportunity for us to meet other people from arts organizations and learn more about their worthy programs.

In realizing this production, what sorts of obstacles have you encountered? How have you overcome or worked around them?

The technical aspects have proven to be even more daunting than we had originally thought, and conveying the complicated concept of the concert to people in short “Twitter/Calendar/Public Service Announcement” size pieces, is a real challenge.

How did your Arizona Art Tank grant enhance the production?

PMAZ_Henry_HicklebeeFunds from the Art Tank grant helped ProMusica Arizona pay for the rental of TV monitors and other equipment required to display the cell phone voting results in real-time. We also used grant money to cover marketing expenses and to pay guest artists and independent contractors to enhance the quality of the performances.

This is not the first time ProMusica has strayed from the tried and true to venture into more experimental territory. Would you say this spirit of adventure is an essential part of your approach, or is necessity (a changing marketplace, for example) the mother of invention?

We continually push the envelope to not only engage our audience in new ways, but also our members.  We feel that the art must continue to be adventurous, to take risks, to be artistic, and meet audiences “where they are.”  Although the changing marketplace is certainly one factor in our decision to innovate, the larger factor is to grow the art form, continually expanding what is expected and what is possible.

The Unpredictable Adventures of Henry Hicklebee will be presented at Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley on Saturday, April 18th at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 19th at 4:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased online, by calling (623) 326-5172 or at the door prior to performance. Prices are $20 for adults, $17.50 for seniors 60+, $12 for students (18 years and under).

For more information, visit ProMusica Arizona’s website.