I discovered Newport in 1993, a fluke visit on our way home from Portland to the southern reaches of the state. I stayed in Nye Beach at a hotel that no longer exists, just a few steps from the Performing Arts Center, still fairly new at just five years old. Nye Beach was by then a bit faded, salty, sandy, rough around the edges, but perfect in that way, too. I must have seen the PAC back then, though I can’t say I recall it. But seven years later when we moved here, I recall thinking, worried as I was about the smallness of this town set between ocean and bay, that surely a thriving art scene spoke well for it.
Over the years, I attended plays, my first opera, the symphony, memorial services, fundraisers and the readings by David Odgen Stiers that even on the darkest, dreariest of nights added a touch of magic to the holiday season. Sometimes I went to the PAC not so much for the entertainment at hand, but as an excuse to cast aside the usual jeans and sweaters for a dress. Heels. Red lipstick. I have no doubt it was the PAC that got me through some of the grimmer, grayer, Coast-stormy winters.
So yes, I’ve always appreciated the PAC, though I confess I can see now I’ve taken it for granted. But then I sat down to write about the upcoming 30th anniversary celebration. I talked with Catherine Rickbone, executive director of the Oregon Coast Council for Arts, and her army of volunteers; I talked with the people who were here when the PAC was a fond wish, a shimmering dream, albeit not particularly realistic.
Now with that experience, I have shifted from thinking that the PAC’s a nice little perk in a small town to thinking that thing is damned near miraculous.
Think about it. In the 1980s, when talk first started about building a performing arts center, the town of Newport had a population of less than 8,000, and I’d be willing to bet many of those lived paycheck to paycheck. Nye Beach, particularly the area where the PAC is located, was a rat-infested neighborhood of rotting cabins and teetering cabins. There were no fancy boutiques or fine dining, much less luxury condos.
Into that scene came a group of artists accustomed to performing in school basements, churches or wherever they could grab space with the gumption to believe that they could raise enough money — millions — to build a hall dedicated to showcasing their talent. City fathers listened. Former Mayor Don Davis recalled telling the group to come see him when they’d raised $500,000. “We didn’t expect to to see them again, but they fooled us,” Davis said. “They raised $700,000.”
It took them four years, said Mark Collson, mayor at the time of the groundbreaking in 1988. There were penny drives, chocolate fests, potlucks and private dinners in the finest of homes. And door-knocking, lots of door-knocking. There was also plenty of generosity from locals like Alice Silverman and Norm and Dolores Winningstad, and grants from the Meyer Memorial and MJ Murdock Charitable Trusts.
On September 17, 1988, doors to the $3 million, 23,000-square-foot Newport Performing Arts Center opened. Today it is home to 11 resident groups dubbed the PAC rats, which include four theater and two dance companies, the Newport Symphony Orchestra, two singing groups, a teachers association and an international film series.
Since opening night 30 years ago, Rickbone estimates, the PAC has hosted more than 6,000 performances, including, “one-offs, music festivals, storytelling performances, author readings, theatre camp performances, etc. etc.”
They’re in phase seven of a $4.7 million “Entertain the Future!” capital campaign drive that began in 2012 to fund new acoustical, lighting, sound and technical systems, an expanded lobby and women’s restroom and now, the renovations of a small theater to be renamed for the late David Ogden Stiers.
But this week, it’s all about the 30th anniversary celebration, set for Saturday, Sept. 15.
Preparations began last spring when Andrea Spirtos, Oregon Coast Council for the Arts capital campaign consultant and The PAC! 30 Year committee co-chair, sent out surveys asking resident companies if they’d be interested in participating. “Without fail every single PAC rat agreed to participate,” Spirtos said. “I was overwhelmed. It was so heartwarming.”
She relied on resident performers to organize “The PAC! ~ A 30 Year Spectacular ~ Celebrating Newport’s Performing Arts Center.” The two-hour show will include scenes from past performances. “We have 11 companies, and each gets just 8 to 10 minutes because we don’t want the show to go on forever,” Spirtos said. “That includes a 15-minute intermission. It is going to be exceedingly fast-paced and really entertaining — not a slow moment.”
Which sounds to me like the perfect excuse for a dress, heels, and the boldest of lipsticks.
THE PAC! – A 30 YEAR SPECTACULAR – CELEBRATING NEWPORT’S PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
- Where: 777 W. Olive Street, Newport
- When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (A separate dinner option is available and starts at 5:30 p.m. — seats are limited)
- Tickets: $32.50 for the show; $102.50 for dinner and the show. Ticket link here or call Bonnie Prater at 541-574-2655.