Pumpkin-spiced everything and half-empty candy bowls prompt us to put away the Halloween decorations, leaving behind harvest items and cornucopias to ring in Thanksgiving. We all know after that, it’s a mad dash to the finish line for Christmas and New Year’s. This can be overwhelming so it’s time to remind ourselves to soak up the coming moments with family and friends.
Instead of a pile of Pinterest-fails (if you’re like me), take a que from nature and decorate ornately with whatever warms your heart. Let any number of local delicious delis fill your dinner table and encourage “oohs” and “aahs” from your family without breaking a sweat in the kitchen. And for world-class entertainment, and when your home is bursting with in-laws and vacationers yearning for a night out, do not forget to check out this year’s amazing schedule at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a steady stream of top-notch shows coming to the Van Wezel? All of a sudden November and December are jam packed with great names. The Van Wezel has long held a reputation for hosting amazing shows in a venue where every seat is stellar. But this year we noticed an eclectic, up-tick of incredible additions to their calendar and we just had to see what was up. We spoke with Van Wezel Executive Director, Mary Bensel, about the highly-anticipated upcoming season and what exciting events might be in store for the future.
When Mary Bensel, who is celebrating her ten-year anniversary with Van Wezel, looks at what shows are out there she gets right down to business. She makes a point of trying to see just about every concert or theater production that she can in search of the right acts to touch the hearts and minds of people who come from all over Southwest Florida for a night out at the Van Wezel. If you’ve ever seen a show there, you know that part of the attraction of the venue might be location, location, location! Situated right on Sarasota Bay and boasting an iconic purple outer shell, the Van Wezel has outlasted similarly-sized venues by investing in renovations and playing an integral part in Sarasota’s vibrant arts and culture scene. When Mary is in attendance at shows, scoping out the acts best suited for the Van Wezel, her measuring stick is not only her enjoyment and fun had at the events; she’s also keeping in mind the demographics of the area, from the very-retired to the very-young.
When it comes to the team Ms. Bensel surrounds herself with to make decisions on upcoming acts she relies on much the same methodology. Her staff runs the gamut in age, ranging from 85-year-olds to teenagers. That, in conjunction with working alongside seasoned agents for over 25 years has prepared Mary to hone in on shows that work for a diverse group of attendees. The lineup, which she will pine over tirelessly, is as diverse as the people she works with. A theme of peace, inclusiveness, and acceptance are at the heart of the Van Wezel’s impressive schedule. For example, a recent performance by ZZ Top brought out people of all ages, with many tweeners in attendance alongside their grandparents. Something special happens when performers can unite an audience of all ages and people walk away feeling like they’ve really gotten their money’s worth. Those are the experiences Mary is hoping to create as she is bringing entertainment to Van Wezel.
After you’ve devoured your turkey and stuffing, and have taken that obligatory trek to the malls, set your sights on Van Wezel for an incredible evening out. The soulful sounds of Melissa Etheridge bring joy and anticipation to the holidays for those who have had the privilege of seeing her. And plan on a beautifully long evening, as she sometimes performs for nearly four hours. It’s a nice vibe going into the holidays seeing fan-favorite Dave Koz, who puts on one of the best Christmas shows around, says Bensel. The Oak Ridge Boys are really “two concerts for the price of one,” she adds, since they give the fans the award-winning standards they all know and love, along with great renditions of holiday tunes. The Beach Boys will be making a stop in Sarasota, delighting audiences with dozens of songs from their musical repertoire. And Manheim Steamroller is coming early this year and always seems to put people in the mood for the holidays according to Mary.
The only job Mary takes more seriously than her position at the Van Wezel is putting up her holiday decorations, which see does over the course of a full four days. She thinks she may have more holiday bling than Macy’s, and her holiday boxes filled a large portion of the moving trucks Mary is utilizing to transition into her new home. Because of the move, she cannot decorate at home for the holidays in her usual flair so her work will be her go-to place for festive music, entertainment, theatre and holiday cheer. And when your job happens to be at the crown jewel on Sarasota Bay, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the festivities are ongoing and inviting. Don’t stay away this season, the Van Wezel has something for everyone. For more information about upcoming shows and ticket availability, please visit www.vanwezel.org.
top photo by The Sarasota Post. All other photos courtesy of Vanwezel Performing Arts Hall