by Andy Miles, PortalWisconsin.org
When the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (400 West College Ave., Appleton) opened in late November, the week-long festivities marking the occasion included an ambitious collaborative production between area performing arts organizations. "Realizing Dreams," as the production was appropriately titled, featured the diverse talents of 350 performers in a pair of performances whose size and scope were unprecedented for local arts groups in the Fox Cities.
"We wanted to show the audience the versatility of the [new] hall and the flexibility of the space," says Carley Miller, executive director of the Fox Valley Symphony, one of seven performing arts groups to participate in the production. (The other groups were the Appleton Boychoir, Attic Theatre, Children's Ballet Theatre, Fox Valley Youth Symphony, Lawrence Arts Academy Girl Choir and White Heron Chorale.)
The FVS will call the Performing Arts Center home for many seasons to come, including the current 2002-03 performance season. Already, the advantages of that arrangement are apparent. "We have had over a 50 percent increase in ticket sales, and we have partnered with corporate leaders in new ways," says Miller. "When I began this job two years ago, many businesses along College Avenue did not know there was a Fox Valley Symphony in the community. Now they do."
As a performance space, the 2,061-seat main hall offers a unique opportunity for the symphony to attract a wider audience base. With structural measures designed to seal off disruptions from the busy intersection outside, the state-of-the-art main hall is "a perfect space for a symphony orchestra to perform. The sound is absolutely stunning," says Miller.
While the main hall is well suited for a symphony orchestra, the Appleton-based Attic Theatre company is preparing to bring two productions to the PAC's 400-seat studio theater this spring. The space, known formally as the Kimberly-Clark Theater, will make the PAC more accessible for amateur, nonprofit performing groups like Attic. Area schools will also have the opportunity to use the facility. "Two of the three Appleton high schools are using the facility in its first season for musical events," PAC Executive Director J. Kirk Metzger says. "I would expect there will be more district-wide chorus, band, orchestra, theater events in the future."
Metzger figures that 10 to 15 percent of the PAC's annual performance schedule will be filled by local productions. And collaborative productions though perhaps not on the scale of "Realizing Dreams" are likely to continue. "We think it's a great thing," Metzger says. "We'd like to see more of that. It may not be all seven groups at any one time, but even if it's two, three or four, we think that's a victory for the collaborative efforts."
The new Performing Arts Center has certainly been a victory for the Fox Cities area. Fifty thousand people turned out for performances and open-house events in the first three weeks alone. And Metzger says they've been impressed by what they've seen. "What we're getting is people who say: 'You know, I was sitting there listening to the Boston Pops, and thinking this is really cool. And then it struck me I'm sitting here on College Avenue in downtown Appleton.' What could be better than that?" Metzger asks.