For as long as I’ve been corps director, finding and maintaining a summer rehearsal facility has been one of the most challenging and frustrating parts of our administrative and member experiences. For those who scratch their heads and think, “What’s the deal? Why is this difficult?” I thought I’d share a little behind-the-scenes explanation as to our challenges and constraints, hopefully without sounding too defensive.
Ask anyone who’s been in the corps a while, and they can tell you about spaces we have been in for both long and short terms. When I joined the corps in 2003, we were in the midst of a relatively stable set of seasons where we were able to rehearse at the old Dayton’s Distribution Center and Sear’s lots in the Broadway and Industrial Avenue zones. This was a pretty good set up for us and worked well for many years. Soon, however, Dayton’sMarshalFieldsMacys sold their distribution facility to Taylor Liquor Distribution and we lost that facility. Then the folks working at the (mostly empty) Sears building got annoyed with us so we lost that facility. Since then we’ve been traveling around, like a circus, trying to find a place that would welcome us with open arms. Few have.
Part of why it’s hard for us to secure space is because our needs are pretty demanding. Here’s what we look for:
- In an ideal rehearsal facility, we will have at least two, if not three, football field size zones. We’ve found parking lots to work well for us because we don’t have to worry about repainting every week and worry about mowing. Parking lots, however, usually need to be associated with a large empty building otherwise we’re likely to have two or three random cars parked in the middle of our field. Ask Scott Palmer how much fun that is to deal with!
- In addition to space, we need to make sure at least one of these football ‘fields’ is lit. Often times the demand for lighting and the demand for space are incompatible–there are lots of large parking lots out there in the world, but modern design calls for lights, green space and islands to break up the sea of concrete making many lots unsuitable for our needs. Last year, we had to rent lights and none of us were very happy with the results.
- Next we have to understand the neighborhood. We have lost many spaces because the neighbors don’t enjoy hearing Dr. Beat at 9:30 at night while they’re trying to get their kids to sleep. This another reason we’ve found industrial, remote areas to be a good fit for us.
- We also need a place where we can park our trailers. The reason for this is two-fold: First, if we have to move our trailers every week that means we need two volunteer truck drivers to make sure they can get out of work, get to wherever the trailers are parked and drive them to our rehearsal facility–all during rush hour. Then they need to hang out until 11 p.m. at night (after everything is loaded), drive the trailers back to storage and get themselves back home. We have amazing volunteer truck drivers, but that’s a lot to ask even of Al and Jodi and Tuna for every single Wednesday of the summer. We also like to leave the trailers on site because it allows for percussion sectionals at other times. Without this the front line would essentially have no access to their instruments during the week.
- Finally, we need permission. I can’t tell you how many places we’ve called that look absolutely perfect for our needs and our request is met with a polite, simple, “No, we’re not interested.” Sometimes this has to do with corporate policies or worry about liability but for whatever reason, some places just don’t want their empty spaces to be put to good use.
Why not schools?
The challenges with using football stadiums or schools are mostly related to the issues above–specifically around the neighbors and noise. If you think of most high schools in the 494/694 loop, they are often located in residential neighborhoods. Schools also charge for facilities, lights and staffing which would be several thousand dollars for a regular Wednesday site. Many are not interested in having our trailers parked on site. During the past few seasons, we’ve tried to add a few school rehearsals to gain stadium time toward the end of the season, but have not found one school that would work for us as a ‘permanent’ home. Brooklyn Center, where we’ve had great success this winter, has homes less than 250′ feet from the stadium’s back sideline. I don’t want to risk our long-term partnership with Brooklyn Center by pissing off all the neighbors.
Finally, the last challenge we have is volunteer capacity. It takes time to locate potential fields, figure out who the owner is and connect with the right individual to get permission. There’s a fantastic spot along the river in Minneapolis I’ve always wanted us to use, but after weeks of calls we finally got an answer from the home office in London–cause that’s where the facility is owned. “No thanks! Cheerio.” They said. And so many hours of work and calls came to a halt. Of course, it’s our responsibility on the admin team to solve problems like this. That’s what I’m supposed to do. Just know that it takes time and is not always a simple process.
So there you have it. Certainly we strive to get better and constantly talk about long-term solutions to this problem. But for now, we continue to seek out good opportunities wherever they may exist and strive to find a safe, consistent rehearsal facility.