Wharton executive director seeks to mirror athletics audiences in theater


The new season of the Wharton Center brings a new face to meet at the head of the theater: Eric Olmscheid.

“I am truly thrilled at the opportunity to be here and encouraged by our heritage…our 40 year history of bringing world class performing arts here to the community of Lansing and the State of Michigan” , Olmscheid said. “Every time I turn around and look at what we’ve done and the impact we’ve had in this community, I’m really encouraged by where we’ve gone and where we can go in the future.

Olmscheid grew up in central Minnesota. Her passion for acting stems from elementary school – singing in the church choir and participating in plays and musicals until high school.

“I’m grateful that my brother…had a passion for farming and wanted to take over the family farm, because that’s not what I wanted to do,” Olmscheid said. “I want to do something in the arts and so my brother took over the farm and then I went to school and studied music, and I kept finding ways to introduce music and theater in my life and to really use the arts as a tool to engage the community.

Olmscheid studied to be a music teacher in college until he realized in his senior year that he preferred to spread the arts rather than teach them.

He is very enthusiastic about managing the Broadway shows the theater is famous for, as well as his commitment to arts education by presenting diverse performing arts experiences. He is ready to expand the audience for these shows.

“Some (students) love what we do and are arts-minded and are coming through our doors right now,” Olmscheid said. “But, many of them may not have a connection to the Wharton Center. How do we get them in? More importantly, how do we connect them to an art experience relevant to their lives?”

He said that doesn’t mean convincing students to only go see Broadway or specific shows, but focusing on how the Wharton builds programs and pathways to represent young people in that space.

“What interests me is listening and not assuming,” Olmscheid said. historically represented in our audience base.

Olmscheid said analyzing the art young people regularly consume can give Wharton insight into how to schedule these seasons.

“We come together in the community around artistic experiences, because that’s at the core of who we are,” Olmscheid said. “Day to day, we have art in our lives – it can be music you listen to, a show of ‘you’re into, or a poster of an artist you love hanging in your apartment. It’s really an important piece for us to understand that the arts are all around us formally and informally.”

While the Wharton offers more formal opportunities to connect with the arts, Olmscheid wants to explore art beyond what happens in Cobb Great Hall – to connect with what matters to the community.

Olmscheid also said he was hungry to know how the Wharton could be better for audiences, creating a relevance factor for the Wharton, explaining that he understood audiences wouldn’t engage with theater if they didn’t. did not see this relevance.

He wants to increase the community accessibility of the shows with more programming that crosses the barriers of remuneration and opportunity.

“We have a very long history of presenting great work…and we’ve found the balance and the mix of how to do it all,” Olmscheid said. “As we look to the future, I think building programs like our Arts Under the Reach program, and expanding that initiative to remove some of the barriers to access related to ticket prices for the community and for students. ”

He said he believes athletics and the arts are equally important, even if the fan base is a bit different.

“I don’t like to think of it as arts versus athletics,” Olmscheid said. “I think it’s the arts and athletics. It’s connected. If you think about the agility of our Spartan football team soccer players, they are dancers. They are movers. They just practice their craft in a very different way than what we think of on our stage.”

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