The Valdosta Daily Times
If voters pass the seventh cycle of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) Nov. 6, the funds could purchase a new municipal auditorium, but what can such a building do for the city? If we already have one, why do we need another?
Local entertainers and theater arts professionals say Mathis Auditorium, which has served the community well for the last 50 years, is now much too small. The shows that Valdosta could have—large productions that you might see on Broadway or in Las Vegas—can’t use it because of size limitations.
“The limited capacity at Mathis Auditorium has posed major challenges for the shows that we have brought in, and our presenter series for the past several years,” said Cheryl Oliver, Executive Director for the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts.
Productions at Mathis have to work through limited lighting and sound capabilities, the size of the stage and the lack of a loading dock for large sets and equipment, according to Oliver.
“We think we have done a wonderful job in bringing the shows that have presented with the restrictions that we face at Mathis, but we also know we’ve pushed the auditorium to its limits,” Oliver said.
Shows that have come to town “run the gamut” of styles appearing in major venues around the U.S.—drama, comedy, musicals, tribute shows—and have included “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Grease,” “Cats” and tributes to the music of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and others.
But bigger, modern shows like “Wicked” and “Shrek” will not show. A new auditorium could change that.
“We could never fit them on the stage at Mathis and give the patrons their money’s worth, and we have pre-show dinners before performances in our multi-purpose room,” Oliver said. “We would love a facility that offered more ambiance.”
Bringing shows to Valdosta does more than give residents something to do on a weekend; it draws attention to Valdosta from across the region. Guests come in from across North Florida and South Georgia and further to see shows and maybe spend the night, Oliver said.
“We draw from a 360-degree geographical area,” Oliver said. “We’re bringing shows to Valdosta people travel a long way to see.”
Nancy Warren, Chair for the Turner Center Presenter Series Committee, agrees Mathis poses problems for larger productions. In addition to a larger stage, the primary needs are a larger front of the house—a more expansive lobby and bigger restrooms—and a support system in the back of the house, Warren stated.
Large productions require better sound and lighting systems, more space for dressing rooms, a loading dock and a “fly system” allowing easier movement of scene backgrounds and other aesthetic elements.
In addition, Mathis presents theater companies with other systematic problems such as electrical power that “limit the level of production (companies) bring into the community,” Warren stated.
Plans for the new auditorium include a 1,300-seat auditorium with floor, box and balcony seating, a multi-purpose room, a lobby and a more flexible pre-function space, architects stated. The new facility will incorporate modern technology including energy-efficient heating, air conditioning and electrical systems, sound, lighting and computer technology, and will operate much more efficiently than Mathis, according to Warren.
Warren stated the Five Points project, which will bring a new auditorium as well as a county library, “offers an opportunity to replace two well-used and dearly loved facilities that are simply worn out.”
“It’s not often that a community has a chance to recreate and revitalize a space like Five Points and rebuild two aging, outdated institutions, while creating an extraordinary gateway to Valdosta and Lowndes County in the process,” Warren stated.
If voters turn down SPLOST, which is just a continuation of the tax that has been in place since the late 1980s, Warren and Oliver will continue business as usual, and will likely seek other methods to attract larger shows to Valdosta, but the job will remain difficult.
“I think a city the size of Valdosta that has metro status needs a good performing arts center,” Oliver said. “Mathis has really surpassed its usefulness in its capacity. I’m just so hopeful that the voters will see the benefits of the beautification of the Five Points area, a gateway to our city that definitely needs more than just a facelift.”