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‘State of the art’ Mustang Performing Arts Center should open in August

Mustang Public Schools’ 69,000-square-foot Performing Arts Center is expected to open before students return in the fall.

“This is a community space,” Jason Pittenger, assistant superintendent of operations, said.

The district will partner with the Mustang Chamber of Commerce, as well as city officials to host events at the center.

The PAC’s Black Box Theater allows students to learn in a scaled down space before adjusting sound and lighting in the Performance Hall. Photos / Dacoda McDowell-Wahpekeche

“We’ll partner with any and everybody who lives in this community, who wants to utilize this space to figure out how to make it a beacon of Mustang to where the arts thrive and this is our home base,” he said.

The district’s new PAC Director Samantha Waldrop agreed, as she aims to collaborate with Oklahoma City theaters and dance studios.

“I just have a lot of ideas of providing community opportunities for students — getting them seen,” she said.

Waldrop was drawn to MPS’ willingness to invest in its Fine Arts students. Whether students go to college for Fine Arts or not, it is Waldrop’s hope that they will always remember the stage and workshop experiences at Mustang’s PAC.

To Pittenger, the PAC has been a unique labor of love, as he has an intimate knowledge of the music industry, having played in a band and operating a recording studio for 15 years.

Officials and construction crew workers have been patient with supply chain delays in materials, as well as labor shortages, due to the pandemic, the assistant superintendent noted. An opening date of Aug. 1 is what the district is hopeful for.

The district began work on the center in the summer of 2019. Pittenger credited the center’s architect MA+ and construction company Crossland for their exceptional work.

“I want to make sure the community is aware of their investment and that we were good stewards with the taxpayer’s dollars to get the most out of what they envisioned and wanted,” he said.

The $25 million center is possible through the district’s 2017 bond issue. It will be under warranty for a year.

Color-changing LED lights line the wall inside the nearly 90-foot-high PAC’s east entrance. An art display area with a tailored lighting system is also part of the wall.

Programmable shades are over each window on the east entrance to shield heat from the morning sun. A concierge station is also located near the east entrance for people to purchase tickets.

Another art gallery near the station allows students to showcase sculptures and other large artwork.

A continued walk to the south side showed a space suitable for a small banquet.

Pittenger noted the design concept of the doors leading to backstage access of the center, saying parents and non-performing students could not walk through them during a performance.

On the center’s educational side, there are two choir rooms, a Black Box Theater and an assortment of other spaces. Furniture will fill the space outside the theater for students to relax before class and charge their phones if needed.

A wall of inspirational quotes chosen by students and teachers fills red boxes inside the space, as well.

In between the choir rooms are 15-by-12 flex spaces to be used as needed by teachers. The rooms are big enough for about a 15-member ensemble.

There is also ample storage for instruments near the rooms.

Before the center, choir, theater and band students were all inside the high school’s auditorium. When choir and theater students move to the center, the nearly 300-member band will take the entire auditorium space.

The theater room is a tornado shelter on the first floor that can withstand an F-5 twister. The walls are a foot thick of concrete.

The PAC’s Theater Room is also a tornado shelter for the district. More than 200 people can fit in the space.

“It was a must-have,” Pittenger said.

The district does not have a room like the shelter anywhere else on campuses.

Black Box Theaters are typically used for one-act plays. Students can also perform scaled-down versions of larger plays in the theater.

The curtains inside affect reverberation, as they can make it louder or softer. Catwalks are also above the space for students to learn how to use lighting rigging during plays.

“We’re really all about training the kids and giving them skills when they graduate and if they want to do theater right out of high school, they’ve had experience with systems that are industry standard,” Pittenger said. 

Each student must wear a harness and technicians must be rigging-certified when on the catwalks.

“This is a very safe and small, scaled-down way to learn how the system works,” Pittenger said.

The theater’s sound booth has the same equipment used in the performance hall. The Black Box can also be used to fit up to 100 people for professional development.

A scene shop has its own designated space for students to build props for performances. The space also has several storage areas, an office and a space for potential video editing.

“A relatively large space for kids to get their hands dirty,” Pittenger said.

Students will be able to roll props directly onto the performance hall’s stage across the center’s hallway outside of the room.

Behind the performance hall is a specific storage closet for the district’s $175,000 Steinway piano.

Dressing and makeup rooms, as well as a performer’s lounge and costume storage room line the area behind the hall.

The performance hall seats 1,500 people. Lighting surrounds the vicinity, with ceiling, three catwalks and tree lighting on either side of the stage, as well as light bars inside the hall’s walls.

The hall’s stage has an area unlike most school district’s auditoriums — a customary space for a pit orchestra.

In front of the stage is an area that can be lowered for a pit orchestra to play without being seen, which affords performances more flexibility.

“It’s a Cadillac feature,” Pittenger said.

Facing the front of the stage, there is a $350,000 acoustic shell of ten panels on the left side that attaches to a shell roof, which is hung in the ceiling.

“It decreases the volume of the stage and reflects the sound that’s created into the auditorium,” Pittenger said.

Balcony viewers can also feel like they are a part of each performance, as Pittenger said seating does not feel miles away. Behind the balcony doors is another small space suitable for a banquet that overlooks an elevated view of the district.

In addition to a pit orchestra space, the newest innovations in lighting, audio, video and communications make the center state of the art, Pittenger noted.

“We wanted the opportunity for kids to experience something that they’re not going to find except in a school district supported by our community like this,” he said.

 

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