BROOKINGS – South Dakota State University is celebrating completion of the Performing Arts Center expansion by hosting “Chicago: The Musical” and an open house this weekend for the public to see the updated and improved facility.

A national touring company is presenting “Chicago: The Musical” in three performances. A gala event for donors for the grand opening of the theatre was Friday evening. Today’s performances are at 2:30 p.m. with some balcony seats available to the public, and at 7:30 p.m., which is sold out.

“’Chicago’ … that’s a very big deal,” said David Reynolds, director of the School of Performing Arts at SDSU. 

“Don’t wait for the last minute to come to the show,” he said, hinting at some new features that will be on display before the lights go down.

The open house is set from 1-3 p.m. Sunday at the Performing Arts Center. Maps with places of interest noted will be available as will staff to answer any questions and explain the new special features of the facility, Reynolds said.

He couldn’t be happier about the changes to the PAC or what they mean for SDSU’s future and Brookings’ economy.

“This is a game changer for this region,” Reynolds said.

Needed room

The celebration this weekend is the culmination of a six-year journey to update and expand the PAC, Reynolds said.

About six years ago, the planning process started, including decisions about the layout of the building, the materials they would use, the budget and fundraising, he said. 

“Then it’s been about three years from the first time a shovel started … moving dirt around the space,” Reynolds said.

The $50 million addition of more than 100,000 square feet was sorely needed, he added.

The PAC was already home to a 1,000-seat concert hall and a 180-seat black box theatre. It continued regular operations during construction.

The addition includes a 225-seat recital hall with a pipe organ and an 850-seat proscenium theatre, a professional dance studio, ensemble space for instrumental and vocal rehearsal and instruction, practice modules, plus faculty teaching studios, offices and classrooms.

The original facility was built in 2003 and had about 60,000 square feet, Reynolds said. Over the years, equipment and lighting was replaced, but no big renovations were done.

“The spaces are in really good shape; we’ve taken really good care of them,” Reynolds said, but there just wasn’t enough room.

The main complaint was SDSU couldn’t have all its performing arts under one roof, which created problems, and the spaces just didn’t work for the performances held there.

“Back in Doner, they used to struggle with getting things in and out,” said Cade Bruna, a student from Madison, who just played Admiral Sir Joseph Porter in the production of “HMS Pinafore.” He said the renovations gave them more room to get set pieces moved around. “You don’t have to waste a few days planning out how you’re gonna set this up, break this down, get this here, get that there,” which makes rehearsals much simpler.

Having all music, theater and dance students in one building has helped them “to become a meshed unit … we aren’t theater kids and music kids anymore, we’re like school of performing arts,” Bruna said.

The old spaces weren’t designed for the performances SDSU gave, Reynolds said.

“When we’d try to accompany an opera with an orchestra, having the orchestra on stage with the singers, it just wasn’t a good balance,” Reynolds said. “We had problems with the piano overbearing the voices in the other space.”

Performers struggled with space, so having musicians on stage could throw off timing, Bruna said.

The lack of space wasn’t only a problem for the SDSU students, Reynolds added.

“The original Performing Arts Center wasn’t really large enough to compete for some … types of events” like music competitions or visiting artists, Reynolds said.

The new addition to the PAC solves a lot of the old problems.

Looking to the future

“We’ve essentially tripled the size of the building,” Reynolds said.

In addition to more room, the new PAC includes academic space for classrooms and rehearsal rooms; public spaces like the dance studio, recital hall, the proscenium theater; and support spaces, like dressing rooms, green rooms, staging areas for props, and recording spaces, Reynolds said.

“We have for the first time in the history of the university, music, theater and dance are all under one roof,” Reynolds said, adding it’s not something you find very often. That means Brookings will have more opportunities for artistic and cultural events they couldn’t get before.

“We think the space is going to have a significant economic impact because of the events we’re going to be able to hold in it. Not just in the Performing Arts, but conferences (and) visiting artists, as well,” Reynolds said.

“We’ve had five days in the last two weeks that we’ve had over 900 people in the building (Larson Concert Hall, Founders Recital Hall, and the black box theatre) at night. It’s been very busy,” Reynolds said.

The Jazz Festival on Thursday brought in 41 middle school and high school performing groups for an entire day of performances, competitions, master classes and workshops. 

“There (were) over 750 students in the building on that day. Some of them (stayed) overnight the night before in hotels and all of them (ate) lunch somewhere,” Reynolds said.

Hosting the Jazz Festival before the addition was a logistical nightmare.

“We would have had to have hosted the event in three different buildings and we would have been cancelling classes right and left to make room for all of those young kids,” Reynolds said. No classes had to be cancelled for the event, meaning students’ education is not interrupted. 

The addition and extra room will make hosting other events possible, too.

SDSU is working with the Brookings School District to bring in South Dakota High School Activities Association events.

“We’ve already received word that we will host the All-State Band and All-State Jazz Bands in the near future,” Reynolds said.

SDSU partnered with the Brookings Convention and Visitors Bureau and the mayor’s office to propose moving the Miss South Dakota Pageant to Brookings.

“We were successful in doing so, I believe, because their board was able to see how truly wonderful their event could be in the space, in this space in particular,” Reynolds said.

He anticipates booking other events, too. And like the Jazz Festival, what’s good for SDSU is good for Brookings’ economy, too.

“We already have a lot of interest in using the space. Phone is ringing all the time,” Reynolds said.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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