BWW Interview: Elliott Forrest Rocks the Arts in Rockland County
Classical music fans in the Metropolitan New York area likely have not only heard Elliott Forrest's smooth, familiar voice broadcasting the Afternoon Drive radio show on WQXR but also might have observed his winning smile and manner as the host of numerous staged events around Manhattan.
On July 1, Forrest added the title Executive Director to his ongoing role as Artistic Director of ArtsRock, a premier arts organization that provides access to arts programs throughout Rockland County. Here, he discusses his exceptional career journey and his plans for the future of ArtsRock.
EM: Tell us about your background. What was your journey from the Theater Department of the University of Texas to becoming an award winning broadcaster and producer?
EF: After I graduated from the University of Texas, Austin I moved to Kansas City to be in a theater company. One day the theater director asked me to go to a local classical radio station to record a Public Service Announcement for the show we were doing. After recording the spot I said, "You guys don't need anybody, do you?" They did. I got the job. I've been in classical radio for more than 30 years. I've overlapped my radio career as a producer of live events and concerts around the country, since producing and directing my first musical at age 19.
EM: It never hurts to ask! You produce radio broadcasts in and around New York City, as well as live concerts, conversations and staged events. Do you enjoy doing all of these equally, or are you especially fond of one type in particular? Do you have a preferred venue?
EF: My broadcast career has been a gift. On the radio, 12 years at A&E, 5 years on CNN, it's been amazing. I must say as much as I love being on the air, there is nothing like creating a live show for a living, breathing audience. Perhaps it's been the sizes, but creating my first show at the Hollywood Bowl (17,000 seats) was a life-changing experience. I adored the two shows I created at the Philadelphia's Mann Center (14,000 seats) and Lincoln Center is, well, Lincoln Center.
EM: It is indeed. Who have been some of your favorites among the artists you've worked with and interviewed?
EF: John Cleese, Harvey Fierstein, Uta Hagen, Mario Cantone, Eddie Izzard, Mike Nichols, Paul McCartney, George Martin, Lauren Bacall, Edward Albee, Lewis Black, Michael Caine, Wynton Marsalis. I've been blessed.
EM: Wow. That's about as stellar as it gets. How would you compare your work with New York Public Radio, WNYC and WQXR?
EF: I've been given so much opportunity at New York Public Radio. I've continued my decades of announcing classical music on the radio and host for concerts on stages around New York. At one point I was filling in for Leonard Lopate on a regular basis, which I loved doing with such a great team. I've also created scores of live events, radio dramas and conversations in the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, including our annual Christmas Carol, conversations with Stephen Sondheim, Jim Gaffigan, Sting, Philip Seymour Hoffman, many memorable nights.
EM: Another star-studded lineup! You have been deeply involved with ArtsRock as its Artistic Director since its inception in 2008. What was your original inspiration and concept, and how has the organization changed and evolved since it was first created?
EF: ArtsRock came about quite organically from a group of Rockland residents who wanted to continue producing shows for the surrounding area. Over the years we've focused more on the community and what they want to see and what local artists do best. I'm also gratified that, as we go into our 8th Season, people seem to know and appreciate the organization and look forward to our events, conversations, concerts and family shows.
EM: What a great service to the Rockland community. How does your role as ArtsRock's first Executive Director differ from your original role, and what is now your primary mission and goal?
EF: Well I've been Artistic Director since the beginning and the board just added "Executive Director" to my existing title. So with that comes an added expectation of programming, outreach, organization and fundraising. So, give now at www.ArtsRock.org!
EM: Amen. How would you describe your audience demographic? Has your reach expanded a great deal since your first started out?
EF: ArtsRock goal is to present professional performing arts to Rockland County residences. We try to do a little something for everybody. Since we do at least 3 family shows a year, we see a new batch of kids and young parents every year. A slightly older demo seems to enjoy our conversations and music concerts. And occasionally we find the right show for those in between.
EM: What is your vision for ArtsRock over the next few years and into the future?
EF: We hope ArtsRock continues to grow; including expanded programming, in more venues for a more diverse audience. Perhaps someday we'll have our own space? And, of course, any of this is only possible with the kindness, donations and ticket sales of our events!
EM: I'm sure the universe will provide that space, Elliott. Thank you for your insights.
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to http://www.artsrock.org or call 855-ArtsRock.
Photo credits: Marc Santos (Rivera); Myles Aronowitz/Lush Photography (Baldwin, Klein)