The Los Angeles Times calls Judy Morr “perhaps the most important dance figure in in the past quarter of a century in Southern California.” Morr is the Executive Vice President of the 25-year-old Segerstrom Center for the Arts and is responsible for the dance programming at the Center. In this Q&A, Morr offers tips to gain the attention of people in charge of programming decisions. She also shares her ideas about the symbiosis between emerging arts scenes and growing audiences, her vision for the future of dance in Southern California and more.
How do you decide which dancers or companies to include in a season?
It varies. Sometimes I include them because I’m confident that we can work on a project that will meet the goals of what the Center is projecting for that year. Sometimes it’s because I’m in awe of their talent and creativity and I want to help them with their next project. Sometimes it’s because there’s an opportunity that you can’t pass by. Dance is so in the moment. You have to be ready to do it when the opportunity is there, because that particular concept will disappear. I’m not saying something new wouldn’t come along, because it always does. But if you feel real empathy for, or really simpatico with, the people and ideas involved in a certain project, you have to go for it.
Do you see your role as supporting the artists in Southern CA, or more to grow appreciation of all the arts — from anywhere — with Southern CA audiences?
I would like to see both. I think there’s still work to be done before there is the desire to have a large dance company in Orange County. Orange County isn’t quite ready for that, although I’m a great admirer of the artists who work here. I’m working with Segerstrom Hall, which is a 3,000-seat theater. What might be appropriate for a smaller venue often times doesn’t work on a giant stage with such a large number of seats. It’s like your home — that’s what you have to work with and you have to find the artists who would work best in your house.
By doing that, is it possible to nurture a growing audience that will in turn support the artists in Southern CA?
That’s so what we need to do and it’s a constant effort. My colleagues and I talk about it all the time. A lot of what we do and think about and plan for is how to increase interest and introduce audiences to dance.
How do you build audience interest and awareness?
We look at options like introductory low-cost tickets and popular programming to facilitate the discovery of dance. We look at bringing dance from the stage to our outdoor plaza to make it available and accessible to everyone. We look to take dance companies, when they’re willing and able, to areas where you wouldn’t expect to see dance in the hope that people who haven’t had the opportunity to see dance before find some connection to it. You have to just keep trying new things.
Does the rising popularity of dance on TV have any effect on audiences for live shows?
I see it as a good thing that’s happened. It raises the interest level and I’m happy about it. In fact, I suppose the number of young people taking dance lessons has increased because of the shows.
What is your vision for the future of the performing arts in CA?
More! There’s no limit. If you believe that live performing arts enhance your life and make it richer, which I do, there should be no boundaries. It’s an open book.
What advice would you give anyone who would like to pursue a job like yours?
I would recommend that they work in as many areas of the theater as they can, which will give them the background to go in any direction they want.
How do you deal with the challenge of limited funding?
Part of being a good manager is understanding what your resources are and keeping them in balance with the creative work you want to do. It’s a constant struggle for balance. That’s realism.
Many emerging artists I know talk about the difficulty of finding — and affording — space to perform and share their art. Obviously a 3,000-seat theater isn’t the appropriate venue for all of these projects, but in general, what advice would you offer to artists looking for places to present their work?
I’m so empathetic! That’s absolutely true. I think each company has a responsibility to not get discouraged and to keep inviting people not only to watch you perform, but to talk with you. Engage with people and producers to explain the direction you’re going in and why you’re special. Never give up. You have to be really strong. The more you believe in the work you do, the more other people will feel that and take the leap of faith with you.
So, how can artists capture the attention of people like you, who make decisions about arts programming?
These days you can effectively reach people with very little money, and without making someone take a trip to check you out. Now with social media and emails, you don’t even have to go through the expensive process of printing out materials about your company. You can send photographs and videos with explanations of what you’re doing. I look at videos all the time. We all do. It’s so much easier now to get the word out about a company. You can present to a decision maker what you want them to see, and talk to them about it.
People keep us informed about what they’re doing. They keep an invitation open for us to go check out their work. That’s great, but remember: I have to be really careful about my travel time. When I’m off to see something, I’m not here to do the rest of my job, and I’m careful about money. What I use on travel can’t go to bringing works to the community that might not otherwise be presented. You can have dreams but it must be balanced with reality and what you can do with the resources you have.