UB and the Klein – experiential learning fits the bill
Between curtain up and curtain down, emcee Paul Shaffer of Late Show with David Letterman fame warmly welcomed one stellar act after another onto the Klein stage. A celebration of unity in artistic diversity, The Klein@75 was an exceptionally well-orchestrated community event that connected the dots from its founding in 1940 to present day 2015. Those dots were set in motion by founder Jacob Klein whose estate afforded the brick, mortar and mission of the Klein: to provide a stage and community gathering place for all constituents, artistic expressions, and points of view.
Last year at this time, on Saturday, November 14, 2015: Mission Accomplished … spectacularly. The spectacular piece was in part a credit to the University of Bridgeport’s Advertising and PR Campaign class led by Professor Susan Katz of the College of Public and International Affairs (CPIA). A jack-of-all-trades within the PR trade (writer, producer, director, creative lead), Katz approaches teaching like she does everything else: as a consummate professional. That’s why she was presented to this client at the request of Board of Directors Chairman Bob Filotei, who introduced her to the Board in the nick of time.
“Right from their first class they had instant deadlines to meet and they met every one of them,” recalls Klein Executive Director Laurence Caso, an Emmy-award winning producer and program development executive who took the helm of the treasured Bridgeport arts center in 2014. “Susan’s class functioned as our advertising agency with great efficiency and creativity. She split her class into teams, broke it all down, and gave clearly defined assignments. With the concert falling in mid-semester, all the promotion had to take place in September and October, so the material had to get on the air, in print, and in distribution as they were cranking it out.”
Confirming the breakneck turnaround is Elijah Whitmore ’16, a mass communications major with a concentration in advertising and special interest in graphic design. As Co-Chair of the Art and Design team for the Klein@75 campaign, he felt both the pressure and the thrill of being in an art director’s shoes.
“From the beginning our team was very busy creating logos, banners, rack cards, posters, animations, and more,” Whitmore shares. “It was a challenge to meet the very tight deadlines, but with hard work and our desire to make this campaign a success, we ended up ahead of our schedule and produced marketable work that was used throughout the campaign.”
The Deliverables & The Presentation
Experiential learning comes naturally to Katz, as “learning by doing” is what she’s been doing throughout her own career. As a PR pro with no formal education in academia, she began to adjunct at UB when new media “flipped everything on its head in the early 90’s” and line items for creatives waned. Since she joined UB, Katz has introduced her students to more than a dozen clients in the City of Bridgeport. That’s why she felt a special kinship with Caso off the hop, as soon as the two forged a partnership with her class to promote the Klein’s 75th Anniversary celebration.
“Executive Director Laurence Caso is a producer by trade. He gets orchestration and organization,” says Katz. “He had so many elements laid out before the class even began – exactly what he wanted and who to call. It is such a pleasure to work with other production professionals. They get it. And the students loved it. They had such solid portfolio material at class conclusion. And that’s what really matters.”
Organizational skills are key for Katz because there’s just no other way to approach all that has to be done in a single semester. For The Klein@75, the roster of deliverables included:
PRESS & PR
ART & DESIGN
|SOCIAL MEDIA||VIDEO & PHOTOGRAPHY|
Driven to give students real-life, hands-on, meaningful experiences that land jobs through portfolio work, Katz runs a smooth operation. Last fall, her proudest moment came prior to the concert, during the final presentation to the Klein Board of Directors. In addition to Laurence Caso and the Board, at attendance were President Neil Salonen, Provost Stephen Healey, and CPIA Dean Thomas Ward.
“I am a producer by trade so I know how to run shows,” points out Katz. “I run five student rehearsals and I don’t settle. We come out dressed in black, we are smooth, organized, and professional. We rock.”
Most UB students know what they’re getting into when they sign up for a CPIA class run by Professor Katz, and they’re ready to step up. Shamare Holmes ’16, Social Media Chair for The Klein@75 campaign and a mass communications major with a concentration in public relations, was tipped off ahead of time that “presentation is everything” with Katz. “I knew right from the jump that whatever we created had to look good because she’s a very visual person,” shares Holmes. “She could handle typos but I would have to brush up on my design skills. I’m a writer and I know how to make things sound good. But that’s not enough. Now I know it not only has to sound good, it has to look good.”
For Whitmore, experiential learning and this class in particular brought him one giant step forward into the professional world. “We worked with an actual client, which brings so much more meaning to the work you do for class,” he says. “I literally forgot all about my grades, because my primary focus was to make this campaign a success.” This approach paid off mightily when Whitemore landed a job as a graphic designer for Interactive Brokers in Greenwich, Connecticut after showing his Klein portfolio on his interview.
Adds Katz, “It’s all about giving students a real-life, hands-on, meaningful experience. What lands us jobs in media is what we can do, what can we put on the table. That is what this whole class is about. And of course, learning to deal with the trials and tribulations of working with a client and everything else that comes with it.”
A “concert” is what you make of it, and The Klein@75 stretched far beyond music. According to Caso, the spirit in the room a year ago this week was a celebration of all that Bridgeport had to offer, including presentations and performances by:
- The Barnum Festival on the traditions Barnum started in Bridgeport
- The Fairfield Theatre Company
- George Mintz, president of the Bridgeport chapter of the NAACP
- Kathleen Maher, executive director of the Barnum Museum
- Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch
- The New England Ballet
- Joel Martin, a prominent jazz musician who created Jazzical and the Klein’s annual Footsteps of Peace concerts
But perhaps Caso’s deepest sense of pride comes from the talent of area youth, such as students who sing and dance in the ASK (After School Kids) program and the All Stars Project of Bridgeport.
“With our student performances, we are not just developing talent but raising self-esteem and accomplishment among the younger generation. I believe that will only lead to a stronger Bridgeport, as they will all share the same touchstone of the Klein. They’ll always have a sentimental attachment to this particular stage and to Bridgeport as a city.”
The Klein’s 75th Anniversary Concert was a celebration of all that and more.
“It was a tremendous show, one of a kind,” continues Caso. “The concept was to do something that was never done before – to take the five resident companies that regularly appear on the Klein stage over a year’s time all in front of a single audience for the very first time. The advantage was, One: the students in the Greater Bridgeport Youth Orchestras would hear what the Greater Bridgeport Symphony (with a 70-year history on the Klein stage) sounds like and vice versa. Two: all companies would benefit by picking up new audiences for future Klein performances. And Three: it was our chance to take pride in presenting ‘our family’ – our resident companies – as a family. We hit all three of these goals out of the park!”
On UB’s side of the coin, the highlight of the night came when Professor Katz’s class (who were all in attendance) was personally thanked on stage for all the work University of Bridgeport students contributed. It seemed ages ago when her class had first stepped foot in the Klein auditorium for a private tour of the 1,447-seat theater and Broadway-size stage (one of only seven remaining in Connecticut). That night when the curtains rose, recalls Katz, “Our collateral and logo lit up the screens in the theatre.”
As with every Advertising & PR Campaign course she teaches, Katz made sure her class covered all promotional angles, with social media being a favorite among her students.
“On the night of the show, as guests were pouring in, we presented them with a custom-made Instagram photo frame featuring the Klein@75 logo,” shares Holmes. “People loved it. We snapped pictures of patrons with the frame as they were entering the concert, then streamed the photos live every moment we were doing it. We even caught one of President Salonen!”
Holmes was equally thrilled with their full names listed on the program. “A thousand people saw our names, that’s amazing itself. We did that, we made that happen. That’s definitely something that’ll stand out on my resume.”
Adds Whitmore, “The highlight of the class for me has to be the concert itself. Being at the Klein, seeing Paul Shaffer in person (I was getting very used to seeing him on our designs), experiencing the success of our hard work, was a very satisfying feeling. It was the best way to end the semester, and the timing of the event couldn’t have been better.”
The Future of The Klein Memorial Auditorium
What will the next 75 years bring to the Klein? Caso hopes much of the same but knows one way or another, the Bridgeport institution will still be here. He points to the Klein’s great entertainment but also civic value, with their auditorium filling up for milestone events like high school graduations, police academy graduations, and the International Institute of Connecticut where 85 people took the oath of citizenship on the Klein stage.
All events harken back to The Klein Memorial Auditorium, knitting together a Bridgeport community that actually stretches throughout 26 towns of Fairfield County.
Looking to the future, Caso adds, “In terms of personal mandates, I feel it is my job to do as much outreach in the Bridgeport community as possible to fulfill the original mission that Jacob Klein envisioned when he designated capital and operating funds in his estate to the City of Bridgeport for this building. A big part of my job is to reach out and find opportunities to collaborate, and working with area schools are of particular importance to me.”
At UB, we’re hoping the collaboration continues for our students, for both the job market value and the fun of it!
For upcoming events and to explore possible collaborations and partnerships, please visit the Klein Memorial Auditorium website.