Issue: March/April 2012
Community Impact Awards 2012: Stage Presence
The Performing Arts Center at Kent State Tuscarawas shines a spotlight on the arts for an entire region.
Jessica Strader has been performing most of her life. But the 23-year-old singer from Bolivar, Ohio, had never experienced a crowd like the one at Tuscarawas Performing Arts Center in New Philadelphia.
Two tiers of packed seats greeted Strader as she stepped onstage to open an August concert for country music legends the Oak Ridge Boys. “It was probably the highlight of my career thus far,” says Strader. “It was completely sold out.”
That’s because the 1,100-seat theater was built for events just like this.
Opened in November 2010, the 50,000-square-foot Performing Arts Center at Kent State University at Tuscarawas has become a centerpiece for the arts in Ohio’s Appalachian counties. With exterior flourishes of sweeping glass and metal that suggest the activity inside, the $17.1 million facility offers state-of-the-art lighting and sound, a main lobby that can function as a conference, dining or gallery space, and several classrooms and rehearsal rooms.
Before the Performing Arts Center, a small community theater was the only source of cultural entertainment. Residents had to travel to Akron, Cleveland, Columbus or Pittsburgh to attend Broadway shows, concerts or live professional theater.
Since its debut, the facility has hosted more than 40 performances, including Cats, Jim Brickman, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lord of the Dance, Michael Bolton and Clint Black.
“If we wanted to see a big-name performer, we had one a year at the fair,” says Mike Morelli, general manager of the Performing Arts Center.
Local schools had a similar problem integrating theater into the curriculum. Now, through the center’s Class Acts Series, more than 4,000 area K-12 students from nine school districts have attended grade-specific matinee performances in the classics, music, comedy and more.
“Now, they don’t have to leave the area to see things that fit their curriculum,” Morelli says. Elementary students, for example, read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a tale about a donkey who finds a mystical rock, at the beginning of the year. Then, the Performing Arts Center brings the book to life on stage for the children’s private show March 16.
“Everybody has a chance to see something,” says Morelli.
The region is singing about the economic benefits too. More than 1,000 local hotel rooms have been booked for cast, crew and visitors. Show-night dining has caused nearby restaurants to add extra staff hours to cover the upswing. And a 60-person part-time workforce assists crews with set loading, unloading and setup.
Morelli estimates the Performing Arts Center has infused about $1.5 million into the local economy since the opening.
It also gave Jessica Strader an experience she wouldn’t have had otherwise. After the show, Strader waited in the entryway to shake hands and chat with audience members who wanted to congratulate her.
“Seeing somebody local perform,” she says, “I think people enjoy that.” It even earned her an invitation to perform at a nearby winery.
“It’s just stellar,” Morelli adds. “We’re thrilled to be able to do that.”
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