Another door to the performing arts has opened for Wilmingtonians. The Cape Fear Community College Humanities & Fine Arts Center, also known as the Cape Fear Stage, celebrated the beginning of its inaugural season at the opening night gala with Liza Minnelli and the NC Symphony last Saturday, Oct. 3.
“It has been an amazing experience to say the least,” says Shane Fernando, director of the Humanities and Fine Arts Center. “The new, 1,559-seat downtown venue shatters the ceiling for the type of performance that we will be able to experience in the Cape Fear region because of its scale and technology.”
Fernando says the new arts center provides the city a venue able to host acts that were not possible before locally, as well as provide a unique laboratory model for student learning. “Having a center of this caliber so accessible and geared to classroom learning is such a privilege,” he says. “The students who have worked with us so far have already grown so much.”
Built from the ground up, the center is a laboratory for experiential learning for college students in the area, including technical theatre, carpentry, electrics, clothing and costume design, marketing and customer service. “The center will find upward of 5,000 students going through the building every week to study in the 25 classes, laboratories and studios, as well as the performance spaces and administrative offices where students will get hands-on training,” Fernando continues. “UNCW has also recognized the center as a place where their students can earn academic credit hours from their work with us.”
For the upcoming fall and spring semesters, the Cape Fear Stage will host three distinct series, including the PNC Broadway Series, which presented Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 5 and 6. It also includes “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Feb. 25, 2016) and “MAMMA MIA!” (May 3-4, 2016); the Star Series with Boz Scaggs (Oct. 28, 2015), Jackson Browne (Jan. 9, 2016) and Lily Tomlin (Feb. 4, 2016); and a Contemporary Dance Series, welcoming the Gaspard & Dancers (Feb. 16, 2016), SEOP Dance from South Korea (Mar. 9, 2016) and CONTRA TIEMPO (April 13, 2016.
Fernando, who serves as secretary for the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts and booking secretary for North Carolina Presenters Consortium, kept in mind what was touring through Wilmington at Thalian, UNCW and other arts venues. Fernando looks at his job curating as a mix of science and art, by understanding what the community wants to see and researching what’s available internationally in music, comedy, theatre, and dance.
“I look at a variety of factors: touring schedules and possible partnerships and routing opportunities with our sister venues around the state and region; partnerships within our state booking consortium, the NC Presenters Consortium, acts that other venues are considering as well, so that we do not step on each other’s toes, as well as what my gut tells me that our community wants to experience,” Fernando tells. “[I look] at past local sale histories in similar genre and historical data from ticket offices around the country for particular artists of interest and seeing their success or failures in similar markets around the country.”
Venue partners, Thalian Hall and UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium, have maintained close connections with Fernando and the center to support and collaborate. They’re bringing The Dusan Tynek Dance Theatre Residency and Performance, co-presented by UNCW Presents and Thalian Hall on Friday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Beforehand, the community at large will be able to visit the center for free this weekend with Artsplosion! on Saturday, Oct. 10. Artsplosion! will bring CFCC students and local artists together for “a collage of New Hanover County-based performing artists of all ages,” according to the show’s producer, Beth Crookham. “Shane has assembled an incredibly talented group of people who understand the craft of operating a venue like this. Bringing together some of the best performing artists in the area has been a joy as well, and it will be such a thrill to watch them take this stage.”
After a call for entries was released in June 2015 for NHC performing arts groups, a jury met to go through the entries in September to start curating the show. “We actually had more outstanding groups apply than we were able to use,” Crookham says. “It was always the intent to highlight the wonderful performing arts programs of CFCC and weave in other community groups around them.”
Twelve different groups, including the Cape Fear Dance Theatre, DREAMS of Wilmington, Girls & Boys Club Drumline, and St. Mary’s 6th and 7th grade violins, to name a few, will donate time and talent for the curtain-raising performance at noon. According to Crookham one of the numbers will combine the works of an instrumental group and a local dance company.
“There is also a visual arts component to the day,” she continues, “that will feature many of the CFCC fine arts faculty members and their students creating art while the guests look on. They will be giving away handmade art pieces as well.”
In the main lobby of the center will be an arts resources fair. Thirteen community arts-based organizations will have theirs works on display in what they’re dubbing the “Arts Resource Gallery,” free of charge. Participating groups include the Arts Council of New Hanover County and Wilmington, Cameron Art Museum, Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, and more.
The Squonk Opera, an interdisciplinary performing artist group from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will perform “Pneumatica” three times throughout the day. Designed to be outdoors, their performances (weather permitting) will be in the courtyard at 12:15 p.m.. 12:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
“[Squonk Opera] allows us to show off how the courtyard was designed as a performance space,” Crookham says. “Squonk’s shows are entertainment for the whole family that excite all the senses, and ‘Pneumatica’ is no exception to this. . . . After the 12:45 p.m. show, there will be a workshop where the Squonkers show you the science and artistry behind the show.”
The Squonkers’ “Pneumatica” is all about the use of air and sound. They immerse the audience in live original music, as figures and tentacles grow around them—brought to life by blowers and vortex fans—and result in a 40-foot-high “Lady Pneumatica.” The music incorporates electronic bagpipes and a vertical accordion, which are also Lady Pneumatica’s lungs, rising and falling with each breath. Air is also used to activate Squonkers’ costumes as they pump up the volume of guitar and bass riffs, piano and other instrumentals.
“Coming through the doors of the center seems almost like being transported to another world,” Crookham muses, “and, in my free moments on Saturday, you are likely to find me at the top of the stairs, taking in the day and the excitement on the faces of our guests.”
Doors open for Artsplosion! at 11 a.m., with the stage curtain officially being raised at noon. Seating in the performance hall is limited; free tickets for the first curtain-raising will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
Artsplosion! is free and open to the public. All events and visiting performances at the CFCC Humanities and Fine Arts Center can be found at www.capefearstage.com.
SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (subject to change due to weather):
Doors open 11 a.m.
Performance Hall opens at 11:30 a.m.
First Curtain Raising, featuring CFCC and NHC performing arts groups, 12 p.m.
Squonk Opera “Pneumatica” in the courtyard, 12:15 p.m.
Squonk Opera workshop in the courtyard, 2 p.m.
Guided backstage tours (space is limited), 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Squonk Opera “Pneumatica” in the courtyard, 3:30 p.m.