Covering the Land of Lincoln

Three questions with Krannert Center Director Mike Ross | University-illinois

Heading into his 25th year leading Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Mike Ross feels like the venue is ready to burst out of the lull created by COVID-19, beginning with its free opening night party at 5:30 pm today.

Ross spoke with The News-Gazette about how this year is different from the 2021-22 season, how people should go about deciding what shows to attend as they dive back in, and the one show he’s most excited about heading into the 2022-23 season.

What is unique about this season, and what are you proud of?

One of the projects that I’m looking forward to greatly is that we are on the US debut tour of one of Ukraine’s leading orchestras, the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra (Feb. 23). Our commitment to not only celebrating the arts of Ukraine but the courage and the sacrifice of all of these performers who are trying to carry on the cultural ambassadorship and cultural exchange, performing for other countries. This is going to be a major event. Because of the timing, of the context of what’s going on in the world right now, that’s a special feature, and I’m very delighted we were able to secure a spot on the tour for this show.

How are you feeling heading into the 2022-23 season?

First of all, I want to acknowledge that last year was our first heavy experience with transitioning out of the heavy lockdown. And we learned a lot over the course of last season. As is only the right thing to do, we placed a very high priority on public safety, public health, on visiting our audiences, our staff and others, and we were doing that within the context of sort of shifting protocols. I’m so pleased to say that it feels to me like we’re in such a better place now than we were last year in that regard. And I’m excited about the prospect of a new season of experiences of Krannert Center that will help our community come back together here at the center and be able to more fully explore and experience the gifts of all of these incredible artists that we should be grateful for in this world. I’m feeling very good about that.

Yes, we continue to work with less. Our staff isn’t as full as it was before the pandemic. The staffing challenges continue, but we are finding solutions. I feel like we are blessed at Krannert Center with a very dedicated core of talented and professional staff. And, I think equally importantly is the importance of our philanthropic support. The donor support that we have received, that we are receiving, that ultimately makes it possible to offer our public programming at the scale and quality and diversity that it represents. There’s a lot to be thankful for. Whereas last year I might have said we were crawling our way out of the worst of the pandemic, I no longer feel like we are crawling. I feel like we are coming back strong, and I hope to see many familiar and new faces at our opening night party on Friday, Sept. 9, and the following night.

For those who haven’t been to Krannert Center in the last few years — or those who have never been there — how would you advise them go about deciding what to attend?

First of all, I want to emphasize the opportunity of our opening night party and our opening weekend. It’s a really wonderful way for a newcomer to experience Krannert Center, to be introduced to Krannert Center. That is a perfect introductory experience for a newcomer, and I think that would be a very powerful way to be introduced to what this place is and what it’s about.

The most important guidance I would give anybody about going to Krannert Center this season is to just spend time on our website.

If someone whose not familiar with Krannert Center takes a good look at our lineup for the season, I’m pretty sure they will find some things that look familiar to them that might be easy entry points. But also, a lot of stuff that they might not be familiar with but they might just find intriguing. The diversity of our lineup is a hallmark of Krannert Center’s commitment to this community and to our role in our national and international touring communities as well.

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