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There's a first time for everything — and whether it's the first time driving a car or a first kiss, the moment brings with it a large dose of anxiety.

The same holds true for those venturing into the arts — whether it's attending an orchestra concert, an opera, a play, a dance performance or an art museum — for the first time. A newcomer may worry about being dressed too informally, or applauding at the wrong time, or not correctly interpreting the art on display.

Relax, say the experts in Utah's arts world. First-timers can enjoy art without knowing too much in advance — and if you do want to study up beforehand, there are ways to do that, too. The main thing, they say, is not to feel intimidated.

In compiling our lists of what's happening in the arts this fall (see the links at left), The Salt Lake Tribune's arts writers asked experts to offer tips for rookie arts patrons.


Hilary Carrier, chairman of the performing-arts department and dance teacher at West High School • Carrier says she hears people say they don't know anything about dance — and that's just fine. "You don't have to know anything about dance. People look at visual arts or listen to music, and they don't have to know anything. Just go. If it's impactful, or powerful art, it will affect you. You'll have a response."

Linda Smith, artistic director, Repertory Dance Theater • "Just be open" and see if anything moves you, or if any of the movement seems familiar — or not, is how Smith invites newcomers to watch a dance performance. She suggests it can be helpful to watch dance with three simple questions in mind: What kind of music or sounds or lights is there? How is the movement done — is it fast, small, big, quirky or percussive? And then simply: How does it make you feel?

"We're not trying to keep a secret," Smith says. "[Dance] is not a secret language that only certain people understand. We all move." She makes the comparison between the performing arts and sports. "When I go to any kind of sporting event, I guarantee I don't know all the rules, like the person sitting next to me. But I just take in the action, and there's wonderful energy and there's activity, and there's sweat, and there's expertise, and there's movement. It's a theater of sights and sounds. I frankly don't have to know all the rules, and if I want to know the rules, I can ask. It's not necessary to my enjoyment of the activity, the physicality, the movement."

Adam Sklute, artistic director, Ballet West • Sklute likes to remind newcomers that ballet can be accessible on many levels. "If you're into the arts, of course there's the artistry, the choreography. But there's also incredible athleticism and incredible strength and the power of the men and the women. And if you like music, listen to the music, because we've got beautiful music playing. And it's also got great storytelling."

Visual arts

Shilo Jackson, owner, Kayo Gallery• "Don't be intimidated. A lot of times people will be hesitant to come in all the way to the gallery. Art can be really intimidating, because it's hard to understand. Only the artist knows what they're trying to say." Also: "Ask the gallerist where to go to see fantastic art. My biggest recommendation is to go for what you love."

Jared Steffensen, educational coordinator, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art • "You actually have all the tools in you already to developing an understanding of the work in front of you. Artists are just trying to figure out things the same as anybody else is." Steffensen recommended galleries that show accessible contemporary art: Kayo Gallery, Nox Contemporary and, of course, UMOCA. He also likes the Central Utah Art Center, which had to give up its location in Ephraim this summer, "but there are rumblings they may be making a comeback in Salt Lake City."


Cynthia Fleming, co-executive producer at Salt Lake Acting Company • "Some people feel that just because they're attending live theater they all of a sudden must be someone they aren't. Not true! You can dress however you want, although, keep in mind, most people always wear shoes. Most of all, don't worry that you 'won't get it.' Art explores who we are or why we are. You'll 'get it.' The beautiful element of live arts is that the performance you and 160 other people in theater will see will never be performed the same way again. It's a unique moment in time. No one can say that about film or television."

Jerry Rapier, producing director of Plan-B Theatre Company • "I had this conversation just yesterday with a friend who saw live theater for the first time. 'It was fantastic!' he said. 'The acting was so much broader than on film!' Live theater is open to everyone, without rules really. The only iron-clad rule I can think of, apart from normal rules of civility, is do not bring a laptop computer to keep your child occupied. Sounds corny, but it's happened to us. Don't violate the sense in which people feel connected during a live performance. We're watching real people move through real-time scenes and dialogue. It's not the film or screen image of what an actor did months ago."

Literary readings

Betsy Burton, co-owner, The King's English Bookshop • "Immerse yourself. Watch and listen with all your attention. At the end of the reading, there are usually questions. Ask genuine questions about the writing, the book or author. Don't issue a personal statement on the book, but offer a genuine question. That will open the book up to the rest of the audience. Don't horde the author during the line-up, and don't hoard the hors d'oeuvres. Also, when artists and writers tour, it's often a strange, impersonal experience of events, then they're off to a lonely hotel room. Be kind and positive with them. It's not as glamorous as it looks."

Catherine Weller, co-owner, Weller Book Works • "It's really nice to have read at least some of the author's work. And if the book's meaningful to you, don't be afraid to have them inscribe it personally. If it's a big-time author, and everyone wants to talk to this person, be cognizant that other people want to talk to the author as well. Take your turn, then move on. That way, neither the author nor bookseller will have to ask you to 'get along.' Otherwise, just know that author readings are much more than a writer just droning on. We've had one author perform a puppet show. Another, David Rees, even led a presentation in pencil sharpening."

Orchestral music

Crystal Young-Otterstrom, founder of Utah Symphony | Utah's Opera's Vivace social networking group • Young-Otterstrom recommends approaching your first orchestra concert as you'd approach any other new experience. If you like to be as prepared as possible, most orchestras put their program notes online, so it's easier than ever to research composers and their works. If you prefer to go in with fresh ears and eyes, that's fine, too. "Just be open to what the piece of art says to you," she said. And remember, there won't be a test afterward.


Paula Fowler, director of education and community outreach at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera • Utah Opera offers online courses in advance of each opera production. If you'd rather not do that much homework, try to read at least an act ahead in your program synopsis so you'll have a general sense of the plot. "Take care of the plot, then you can listen to the voice," Fowler said. "The more you know, the more you'll see." Opera, she said, is a "multimedia extravaganza" that can be appreciated on many levels.

Chamber music

David Porter, president of the Intermezzo Chamber Music Series • Don't worry about how you should dress (you'll see people at concerts in everything from evening wear to jeans) or when you should applaud (Porter recommends waiting for someone else to start applauding if you're unsure). "Yes, some of our traditions are a little bit stuffy, but the music is not," he said. "Often, music is much less intimidating than people think." Porter says the intimacy of chamber music can make it "great fun for the audience. You get to know the players."