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Photo courtesy Cabrillo College
Artbeat of Cabrillo: The gleaming new Visual and Performing Arts Complex at Cabrillo College houses the state-of-the-art Crocker Theater, right, and a separate Music Recital Hall, at left.

Creative Complex

Cabrillo College throws a coming-out party for its long-awaited new arts facility.

By Traci Hukill

TO THE approximately 1,600 people who snapped up free tickets to this weekend's gala opening of Cabrillo's new Visual and Performing Arts Complex in a freakish 56-minute display of enthusiasm for the arts on the first day tickets became available: Congratulations. Your efforts were not in vain. The three "sold"-out performances, a mélange of music, theater and dance, will be staged in a shiny new showpiece of a venue, the Crocker Theater, the crown jewel in a glitteringly modern complex 11 years in the making.

To everybody else: start making plans to attend a slew of VAPA shows this fall and set the GPS for Cabrillo on Saturday for six free hours of workshops and snooping through a new $68 million arts facility that puts Cabrillo in an elite class of California community colleges. Make that community colleges everywhere. As new vice president of student services Dennis Bailey-Fougnier remarked recently, referring to a previous employer, "At Virginia Commonwealth University, I guarantee they would give their eyeteeth for this facility--and they had 6,000 arts students."

It's hard not to gush. Built primarily with funds raised by local ballot measures in 1998 and 2004, the complex consists of five buildings clustered across Soquel Drive from the old Cabrillo Theatre. Begun a little too early to get in on LEED certification, the buildings nevertheless have a distinctly modern, smart feel, with lots of glass, light and natural materials. In organization and design, this is meant to be a fully updated 21st-century facility with a long life.

That means different things in different departments. In the airy, well-lit 2-D art studios--where even low-tech props like drawing horses have been given an ingenious makeover--digital facilities are never far away. The digital photography studio, just around the corner from the traditional wet process center with its darkrooms, houses more than two dozen 22-inch Apple monitors. The printmaking studio, besides having complete capability for both silk and intaglio processes, is next door to a digital lab. "We know traditional media and digital media are coming together," says dean of visual and performing arts Dan Martinez. "This proximity is meant to aid that."

In the 3-D studios, high tech has other meanings: fancy kilns for ceramics, tiny state-of-the-art torches for metalworking, efficient ventilation for the welding room (where, in one of Saturday afternoon's highlights, there will be a 2pm pouring of 2,400-degree bronze into a casting).

In the music building, it means digital recording studios, 15 soundproofed practice studios and a 369-seat Recital Hall described by theater design consultant Steve Pollack as a "V-12 engine in a Superbeetle." He refers to the Mighty Mouse combination of an intimate, steeply pitched performance space with a large, modular stage and a highly adaptive acoustics system. This hall will be a regular venue for any musical venture that requires great acoustics--jazz bands, Cabrillo's many choruses, classical recitals.

And then there's the Crocker Theater, named for benefactors Richard and Theresa Crocker, who in August 2007 announced a donation of $1 million to the new project. It's spectacular. The theater itself, at 581 seats a good 20 percent bigger than the old theater, boasts state-of-the-art lighting and rigging setups, a versatile system of trap doors and rooms beneath the stage, vents beneath nearly every seat in the house as a better means of temperature control and a warren of charming backstage features like "star rooms" for Equity actors, a full makeup room and a costume center complete with washer and dryer for cleaning and dyeing. The 150-seat Black Box Theater serves the age-old purpose of providing a place for experimentation. And in a nod to reality (and updated code), the theater features more stalls in the women's rooms than in the men's. Eureka!

There's a sense almost of embarrassment among Cabrillo officials over this complex--after all, its long-scheduled unveiling came at a time when the college had to cut 100 classes in order to make up for a $3 million funding shortfall. But it's mixed in with a healthy dose of pride, and this weekend thousands of people are about to find out why.

THE VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS COMPLEX OPEN HOUSE is Saturday, Oct. 10, 10am-4pm. Free. Visit for workshop and performance schedule. Sold-out gala performances are Friday, Oct. 9, Saturday, Oct. 10, at 8pm and Sunday, Oct. 11, at 3pm at Crocker Theater, 6500 Soquel Dr., Aptos.

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