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Published: Sunday, 9/21/2003

New Owens facility perfect venue for expanded arts program

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

With the August opening of its new $11 million Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Owens Community College set the stage to be an important player in the region's arts culture. In place for this season in the center's 520-seat theater is a diverse entertainment roster made up of school ensembles, as well as local, regional, and national acts.

The season opens Friday with the renowned New Orleans-based Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Booked for later in the season are the jazz-inflected Turtle Island String Quartet (Feb. 8) and the Ann Arbor-based Chenille Sisters (May 8). Local users include Masterworks Choral, Toledo Ballet, and the Perrysburg Symphony.

“For Owens, the whole point was to bring the campus community together through the arts while also reaching out to those off campus.” said Dr. Brian Bethune, chair of Fine and Performing Arts.

“A lot of people in the area know that we're here, but haven't actually been on campus. This theater will help change that. People will be impressed when they come and see what we have.”

What Owens has is a 75,000-square-foot facility with art and music studios, and an exhibit gallery. The building's centerpiece is the theater, which has been designed for lectures, as well as music and drama performances.

Ralph Nader spoke there recently.

The space is high-tech, wired for Internet and computer presentation capabilities to facilitate classroom and conference usage. An orchestra pit that holds around 21 musicians allows for musical theater productions. For the community at large, the theater fills a niche previously unoccupied.

“We don't have to compete with the Valentine or Stranahan theaters because we're looking at a different market. We're looking for groups that are well known but may be attended by smaller audiences. Our expenses are lower. That's a good space to occupy,” said Bethune.

Another advantage is that the theater doesn't have to support itself on ticket revenues.

“The theater was built for educational purposes and envisioned to be used for other ancillary purposes. This means that our event programming just needs to cover the basic costs, not make money or pay salaries. This should result in slightly lower ticket prices,” said Bethune.

Like other area theaters, usage fees vary with rental frequency and affiliation. The basic cost for a dress rehearsal and performance is in the $450 to $500 range. Use of lighting and sound equipment will raise the price.

The season is both ambitious and varied.

Perrysburg High School students join the Perrysburg Symphony for a side-by-side concert next Sunday afternoon. This will be the first of three Perrysburg Symphony dates.

Owens students present Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Oct. 17 through Nov. 8, followed by a Dec. 4 to 9 run of Langston Hughes's Black Nativity.

Celtic acts set to perform include the step-dancing Sean Curran Company (Feb. 14) and Cherish the Ladies (Mar. 12). Toledo Ballet and Masterworks Chorale present Faure's Requiem on May 15 and 16.

There is a variety of questions that will only be answered as the season unfolds.

Most important, will the theater's acoustics be up to the varied demands? Speech requires clarity, but music achieves warmth through longer reverberation times. The Owens theater was designed to split the difference. This, as patrons of the Valentine Theatre have discovered, can lead to unsatisfactory results.

Also worrisome is the fact that Bethune and colleagues are not sure they have the public's pulse. What does the community want to see and hear?

This first season is a series of educated guesses, admits Bethune.

“Our ultimate mix will probably be wider-ranging in scope that what we have in place now. But as to how, we just aren't sure.

“Owens is stepping into the field of performing arts in one sweeping motion. Suddenly we have a 19-curriculum arts program, a theater, gallery, and performing arts season. For 10 years we have been planning to become a comprehensive community college. Now we are there.

“There has been some hand wringing along the way. But that comes with anything that's new. As Stephen Sondheim said in Into the Woods, the two things that always go hand in hand are exciting and scared. That's were we are right now,” he said.

For information on the Owens Community College season call 419-662-2787.



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