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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Tradition meets innovation: From Auditorium to state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center in eight decades

The Performing Arts Center was built as the auditorium during the Depression. Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson. |
The Performing Arts Center was built as the auditorium during the Depression. Photo by Vanessa S. Nelson. | [email protected]

For 80 years one of the oldest buildings at City College has hosted countless musical events, plays, performances, graduations and ceremonies.

Built during the Great Depression as a Works Projects Administration (WPA) project, according to Caroline Harker of City College Special Collections, this historic building now contains three separate theaters as well as classrooms.

The building was known as the Auditorium until the 2011–12 renovation, when it was renamed the Performing Arts Center (PAC).

“The Sacramento City College Auditorium was, for a number of years, the only college focal point for the arts in the Sacramento community,” says Chris Iwata, City College dean of Humanities and Fine Arts.

San Francisco artist Ralph Stackpole painted a fresco titled “The Importance of Education in Sacramento” in the lobby of the new Auditorium in the summer of 1937, and it remains the building’s signature piece of art.

He was paid, according to retired history professor Bill Mahan who wrote a pamphlet about the fresco, partly from federal funds and partly from the proceeds of the college’s annual Art Balls.

Art Balls were musical and dance extravaganzas to raise money for the college. They involved music, art and theatre department faculty and students.

“This was the place to see theater and music particularly, so there were a number of Art Balls staged here, and that was a huge event in Sacramento,” says Iwata. “Everybody who was anybody attended — local notables, politicians, art figures — and it was quite the event.”

Over the decades, Stackpole’s fresco and the Auditorium began to show signs of wear. The fresco was restored in 1984.

Theatre Arts department chair Shawn Weinsheink says that the Auditorium itself has undergone two major renovations — the first in 1993, financed by donations from the public. Much of the work was donated by local craftspeople, many of them City College employees.

“Then-President Robert Harris did the best that he could,” says Iwata. “He had trouble raising the funds, so the Auditorium fell into disrepair.”

The most recent renovation transformed the Auditorium into the Performing Arts Center, a fully functional building in which the theatre department could teach and hold productions for the first time in decades, says Weinsheink.

“Everything in the classrooms was modernized,” says Weinsheink. “All of the rigging and lighting was completely redone. In fact, they dug a basement so we have a trap room underneath the stage that never existed.”

Weinsheink also says that the area where the balcony seating was once located was converted into additional classroom space.

“The most recent renovation has done a lot to bring the facility up to the level at which we can teach theater production, and students can get the actual experience they would see in the professional world,” says Iwata.

The PAC now has three theaters, which are utilized for different types of performances.

“The Art Court Theatre does one main stage show, and the Auditorium does one main stage show, and the Children’s Theatre in PAC 106 is called the Little Theatre with approximately 100 seats,” says theatre/film professor Robert W. Gore.

These faculty members agree that the Performing Arts Center is a campus asset that benefits both theater students and professors.

“It gives our students in all avenues of performance art a venue of quality and size to work in,” says Weinsheink.

“Students are always the actors and actresses, and most of the technical crew are students,” Iwata says.

The new facility has updated functionality to help students learn the art of theater performance.

“The Auditorium is what is called a proscenium stage with a whole fly system, which means scenery can fly in and fly out,” notes Gore. “There’s a fly loft so it can fly out, and that’s an advantage to students because they are likely going to work in a theater of that style.”

Depending on the schedule, the plays rotate so no one theater genre dominates. “In the theatre department we do drama, comedy and musical theater,” says Weinsheink.

The benefits of City College having its own Performing Arts Center are many and varied.

“There are many opportunities to raise funds through ticket sales; it provides a wonderful gathering space for the college community and the community surrounding the college,” says Harker, “and it is a historical place for the college’s rich theatre arts and music tradition.”

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