Exuding quiet strength in the Gem City for nearly a decade, Ken Neufeld, President and CEO of the Victoria Theatre Association, will retire Aug. 31.
Since moving to Dayton from Buffalo, New York in 2009, Neufeld, 65, particularly delivered greater diversity in VTA programming, bringing more music acts to town as Star Attractions as well as implementing the National Geographic Live! Series, one of his favorite programs.
As for national tours, he secured hot properties such as “The Book of Mormon,” “War Horse,” “Motown,” “Kinky Boots,” and “Pippin” as well as smaller gems such as “Once” and “The Bridges of Madison County.”
The VTA will soon present the local premiere of the hilarious 2015 Tony Award-nominated musical comedy “Something Rotten!,” a tuneful Renaissance spoof opening March 20 at the Schuster Center, which notably opened 15 years ago this month.
In addition to the Schuster, the VTA is the owner and operator of the Victoria Theatre, Metropolitan Arts Center (home of the Loft Theatre), and the Arts Garage.
Here’s your chance to get to know Neufeld, a native of Canada raised in Toronto and Winnipeg.
What fueled your love of the arts growing up?
I had a pretty musical upbringing. I played guitar from an early age, played in bands, drama club at school, and just really enjoyed the people and the environment around the arts. Luckily, I found a way to make it a career.
What are some of your favorite musicals or plays?
In general, I like plays or musicals with a bit of “magic realism” in them, works that take you to a not wholly realistic place. I also like the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, who I worked with on two world premieres when I lived in Vancouver. I also like epic productions, (the works of Bertolt) Brecht, and sometimes small little musicals like “Come From Away” or “Once.”
What are some of your favorite shows you've seen on Broadway?
“Come From Away,” the latest revival of “The Crucible,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Fun Home,” and “Death of a Salesman” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Aside from New York City, are there other cities or festivals you are most fond of when seeing theater?
I like (Canada’s) Shaw and Stratford (Festivals) for their amazing production values and great environments. I have seen great theater in all sorts of places. It’s not always dependent on the place.
What led to your decision to move to Dayton and seek the VTA presidency?
I knew that this job would be a big challenge for me – it is bigger, more complex, with more moving parts than anything I had done previously. I was very attracted to the facilities, community and the amount of arts programming here. And it’s such a convenient and easy place to live.
You recently oversaw the planning/programming of your final VTA Broadway Series. Which shows are you most proud to have on the 2018-2019 slate?
I am proud for our audiences to see “Waitress” and “On Your Feet!” because those are two shows that VTA invested in and, so, we are partly responsible for bringing them to the stage. They are also great pieces of theater. I also think people need to see the gorgeous production of “The King and I” which is a musical that doesn’t get done very often anymore.
Some may be curious to know what goes into planning the Broadway Series. Is there a certain strategy of any kind?
A lot of the strategy is based on what the producers in New York are touring in our region. We try and balance our programming with some classics, some shows that play well for families because that’s the audience of the future, and we like to put in some new shows that maybe are still running in NYC or have just closed.
What makes the VTA a vital component to the local arts community and the national arts scene?
Our programming is diverse, we welcome everyone, and we are making significant investments in our facilities. By doing this, I believe we are a model for other performing arts centers.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments during your time at the VTA? How do you feel the organization has grown under your leadership?
I am proud of how we have expanded programming, increased our endowment fund through raising almost $15 million with the Next Stage Campaign, and we’ve really increased our educational/engagement programming during my tenure. I think we have increased our stability and made some very strategic investments in our facilities that will help to ensure a great future.
What are your hopes for the VTA's future?
That the organization continues to grow, become more financially sustainable, and continues to take risks in its programming choices by forging new and unexpected partnerships within our community.
What's one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m an identical twin.
What do you love most about Dayton's arts scene?
It’s compact. I can see the ballet and something at the Schuster Center or the Loft Theatre and only have to park once.
In what ways would you like to see Dayton's arts scene improve?
More risk-taking with programming.
What are some of your favorite Dayton spots/locations/venues/?
Corner Kitchen is our favorite restaurant. Dog walking in the great parks. Seeing a show at the Victoria or the Schuster.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Dayton?
That it is a small city and therefore doesn’t have big city amenities – WRONG.
What inspires you the most about Dayton?
Great people who really get why the arts are important.
How do you envision Dayton in the next 5-10 years?
Vibrant downtown dining and entertainment scene fueled by lots more people living downtown.
What are you most looking forward to as you retire?
Having more time to spend with my wife, Lesley, and dog, Riley. The thing I’m least looking forward to – paying for theatre tickets!
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