The largest theater in Albany is also the newest; In the midst of a pandemic, the multi-million dollar facility opened last year and has become a major venue for all kinds of events, local schools and others.
Technically, the Albany Performing Arts Center is housed at West Albany High School. But the Greater Albany Public Schools consider it a district-wide facility where all schools can have their plays and concerts.
It will also be used as a community space, with upcoming performances by the Albany Youth Orchestra, Willamette Valley Symphony and Legacy Ballet.
The project is a result of the $159 million capital development bond approved by Greater Albany voters in May 2017.
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West Albany High — where the new center is located — received $62 million of this bond to create the auditorium, an additional gym, a new entrance, upgraded career and technical training spaces, college dormitories, a new bus loop and new tennis courts.
Construction on these projects began in March 2019 and concluded in May 2021 with a formal dedication ceremony in April 2021.
West Albany band director Stuart Welsh is the go-to person for all things center-related, and he said the district originally hoped to see a performing arts center in both South Albany and West high schools to have Albany. However, due to budget constraints, there could only be one.
“When we found out it was going to be just one, it hit us that everyone was going to come here,” Welsh said. “So it had to be the real deal.”
The center is quite a sight, with seating for over 700, an orchestra pit, eight wooden concert towers and four cameras broadcasting every event live.
“We were initially concerned about the size, but so far it’s worked out well,” said Welsh.
The massive space could risk dwarfing smaller shows, which don’t take up as much of the stage as musicals and large-ensemble concerts. In these cases, eight wooden concert towers can unfold into a rounded wooden shell around the stage, propelling the sound and helping the performers not seem choked on such a large stage.
Because the sound transmits so well in the auditorium, it can pose a problem for brass ensembles such as jazz bands. Luckily, curtains can be drawn around the entire room to help absorb and create a drier, dead sound for those concerts, minimizing annoying echoes.
PLA Designs in Beaverton designed the theater and Welsh said it was important to have a space that supports both theatrical and musical events. Most stages, he said, only support one type of performance.
In the same wing as the theater, West Albany also has a video production lab and television studio, a green room, black box theatre, storerooms and a scene shop. Welsh said it has been a goal of his to integrate media and professional training classes with performing arts to create a cohesive unit at school.
Performing groups from other schools first rehearse in their own buildings and then use the West Albany center for the two weeks leading up to their show. Welsh said the students have adapted well to this type of schedule, allowing them to get used to the huge stage ahead of opening night.
South Albany hosted its production of Little Shop of Horrors at the center in February and West Albany just finished its musical Anastasia in April.
A full schedule of upcoming shows at the center is available at https://apac.albany.k12.or.us/.
Joanna Mann (she/she) covers training for Mid-Valley Media. She can be contacted at 541-812-6076 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @joanna_mann_.