Seven Days of Opening Nights
This year’s festival continues its legacy of a diverse mix of arts and performers. Seven Days of Opening NightsFestival Offers Music, Dance, Art, Literature … and More
By Maria Mallory White
When it comes to its name, Seven Days of Opening Nights, the tag for the Florida State University-sponsored arts festival, is a misnomer. Literally.
In its ninth year, the festival, which takes place on 14 days that span the two-and-a-half week stretch from February 12-27, owes its name the to event’s origins.
“It came about because we had in the very first year seven events. At first we called them ‘marquee events,’ and then we called them ‘opening night events,’ and somehow that led to ‘Seven Days of Opening Nights,’” recalls Chairman of the Executive Committee Margo H. Bindhardt, who has been involved since Day One.
“The main reason we never changed the name was it caught on that first year,” Bindhardt explains. “It’s kind of one of those things where we felt if we changed it, nobody would know who we were.”
One thing hasn’t changed over the years: This year’s festival continues its legacy of a diverse mix of fine and performing arts, with nationally and internationally renowned performers representing a broad mix of genres.
“It’s definitely an eclectic group. You’ve got a touch of a lot of different things here,” observes Bobby Rodriguez, who, as executive director of Bobby Rodriguez Productions, Events & Entertainment in Ft. Lauderdale, is himself a musician and 25-year veteran of festival planning.
“In my opinion as a professional event coordinator, this is a major undertaking. It’s an impressive lineup,” Rodriguez says.
And that’s the point – not only of the festival, but also of the poetic license of its name that is marketed and exhibited with an almost artistic defiance.
“What we’re trying to do is not your everyday festival,” says Fran Conaway, director of special projects with the Florida State University Communications. “It’s uniquely Tallahassee. We cut across the boundaries.”
And though headliners such as the iconic modern dance troupe Paul Taylor Dance Company, New York Times bestselling author James Bradley, South Africa’s celebrated singer-dancers Ladysmith Black Mambazo, award-winning vocal jazz quartet Manhattan Transfer, and internationally acclaimed cellist Lynn Harrell, who will play with the Florida State University Symphony Orchestra, are as different as the art forms of their individual virtuosity, there is one common denominator, festival director Diane D. Greer points out.
“They are all people who are recognized either as dancers or musicians or authors – whatever it happens to be – who are recognized by their peers as having achieved a certain level of recognition and fame.”
And that, too, harkens back to the festival’s origins. From its inception, the festival was organized with two main goals in mind, according to Bindhardt: To showcase the fine arts department of FSU and to give a gift to Tallahassee from the university.
“We still like being able to have something for everyone,” she says. “[The festival] shouldn’t be perceived as just highbrow, but it should be popular, too. It needs to be not just opera, not just ballet, not just country western, not just young or old.”
The artists in this lineup, “are not just people you would see on MTV all the time,” Greer admits. That’s because “the students are not the primary audience, although we do have a student-priced ticket for all shows across the board, and we advertise the festival broadly,” she says. In fact, in years past, “There are some performances, where I go, and I look around and think, ‘Gee, the audience here is all young,’” Greer says. “So, I feel like it all evens out. There are some that appeal to students and some that don’t at all.”
Still, students are privy to an exclusive side of the festival that other audience members can’t access: Educational exposure and performance contact with about half a dozen of the artists who’ll visit the festival.
“The contact hours we have provided have been really wonderful experiences for the students in almost all cases,” Bindhardt brags. “The deans [of the FSU art departments] try and find those kinds of artists that are willing to share with the students – not somebody who just breezes into town, does their act and then leaves.”
Truly, Seven Days of Opening Nights is a cultural gem of many facets for the Tallahassee community and art lovers across the state. Misnamed or not, the festival and its less-than-literal moniker are here to stay.
“I like to say, ‘It’s seven days of opening nights, not necessarily in a row and not necessarily just seven’ – but that’s too long [for a name],” Bindhardt laughs.
Indeed. Better stick with what you’ve got.