Hoyt Sherman Place has been a landmark building in Des Moines for more than a century and an entertainment venue for decades. It wasn’t until recently, though, that locals started to take note. Enter: Robert Warren. The Executive Director has pushed boundaries, taking risks on booking national touring acts and bringing in top performing artists. In just three years, Warren has turned Hoyt Sherman into a destination for live entertainment. This year we honor Hoyt Sherman Place’s dedication to the growth of Central Iowa’s music industry. Join us in celebrating Hoyt Sherman as “Industry Supporter of the Year” at Backstage Ball 2018 – February 23rd at Backstage at Noce! Check out upcoming events at Hoyt Sherman Place here and read the full interview below.
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Backstage Ball: When you joined Hoyt Sherman Place as executive director in 2015, the venue was failing to pull in crowds and continually operating in the red. Quite the opposite of your past experiences. What attracted you to this city and job?
Robert Warren: I saw great potential in the facility and was very impressed by the renaissance of Des Moines. During my interview visits, I could see that the Capital City was bursting at the seams with arts and culture on every level.
BB: In your short tenure at the helm of Hoyt Sherman Place, you’ve managed to up the shows per year, book nationally and internationally renowned artists across all genres, increase ticket sales, and finally turn a profit. In doing all of this, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
RW: The biggest challenge has been trying to find enough hours in the day to not only support all of the amazing headliner events happening in the Theater, but to also give equal time and attention to the Historic Mansion, The Art Galleries and the stakeholders that helped to make Hoyt Sherman Place what it is today. Equally important, with the increased attendance and bigger shows, is dealing with the space limitations in a facility that was designed originally as a residence and then later expanded to be a meeting place for the Des Moines Women’s Club. I recognized early on that expanded space for patron services and artist accommodations as being critical to sustained and future growth.
BB: What has been the most surprising aspect?
RW: I have been pleasantly surprised that we can fill up 1,250 seats across all age groups with our extremely diverse offerings, which is essential to keeping Hoyt Sherman Place on the “relevance radar” and to the growth of the community. From Flaming Lips and Primus to Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, Hoyt Sherman Place has been able to find an audience to support them all.
BB: Hoyt Sherman sits in a unique spot in the entertainment scape of Des Moines. How do you see it fitting into the greater scene?
RW: Hoyt Sherman Place and the Greater Des Moines area are fortunate to have numerous venues ranging from 100 seats to almost 20,000 and no two are alike. Hoyt Sherman Place fits into the scene perfectly as the acoustic gem of the city with enough capacity to support the more expensive artists and yet retain the intimate and up-close experience when seeing and hearing their favorite artist.
BB: When you pitch to touring artists, what’s the draw factor?
RW: The facility itself is a huge draw, supported by our ability to fill up the space with some of the most appreciative and respectful fans an artist could ever hope to perform for. We deliver an incredible experience to our ticket buyers and our artists and create an atmosphere that has both groups singing our praises during and after each event. In the past two years, we have strengthened our relationship with every major artist agency and promoter representative by allowing their artists and crews to shine. Once they experience the intimacy of Hoyt Sherman Place, they can’t wait to schedule a return visit. If we can get the backstage accommodations up-to-date and accessible, there should be no stopping our ability to attract even more artists to experience Hoyt Sherman Place and all that the city of Des Moines has to offer.
BB: The venue’s hosted some incredible acts and I’m sure you have stories about the bands and crews who have been through. Care to share any backstage moments?
RW: My favorite moments, which can occur backstage but more often times while watching the performance, are when the artists themselves are so moved by the experience that they take the time to personally thank the patrons, the staff and crew for a magical night. When Martina McBride rushed off stage after her third encore number and hugs her husband/manager and myself and said she couldn’t wait to come back, that was magical. Or when Wynonna Judd comments to the capacity crowd that it is “so nice to be in a theater where I can see everyone’s face and we can all experience the same music at the exact same time.” And I’ll never forget Peter Frampton thanking the audience and all of the forward thinking people that built such a magnificent “Place” and had the courage to protect and preserve it for more than 100 years. He finished up by saying “Thank god it didn’t get turned into a 7-11.” Last but not least, so fond of everything Lyle Lovett has done both on and offstage. She personally thanks everyone that works a show, from the volunteer ushers to the cleaning staff, and tweets out some of the most amazing praises I have ever read.
BB: What are your goals for Hoyt Sherman Place in 2018?
RW: Continue the emphasis on high quality talent and sustain the moment and success of the past two years, which will allow us to continue to build up our base of support for the organization in order to achieve our strategic growth initiatives. We are also investing more resources and time to expand our community outreach and educational initiatives, which are critical pieces of the mission of Hoyt Sherman Place. Thank you for this honor. It’s so wonderful to be recognized by your peers.