The transformation of the Valley Vista Performing Arts Center, 15660 N. Parkview Place, into The Vista Center for the Arts isn’t officially official until the sign is erected on the actual building.
But that didn’t stop the city of Surprise traffic officials from already alerting drivers on Greenway Road how to find The Vista, on the campus of Valley Vista High School.
Dysart Unified School District spokeswoman Renee Ryon said the new sign will be up in the matter of days, ushering in a new era of entertainment in Surprise and the sounding areas.
The Vista, as its shorten named is now called, will call home to a broad range of six shows this spring with the hopes of one day turning the 1,300-seat facility, one of the largest in the West Valley, into a year-round schedule of events that appeal to the local market.
First up this spring are acts as varied as the famous jazz orchestra, one of the highest-rated magicians in Las Vegas, a Pink Floyd tribute band, a doo-wop classic and more.
It’s the kind of entertainment that was first envisioned when the Valley Vista Performing Arts Center’s first of two phases opened in 2008 at a cost of $16 million.
The first phase the first year included the student band, dance and choral rooms, plus a lecture hall. The second phase was completed in spring 2009, which was part of the performance hall.
“The initial vision really was to really use this as a regional destination as a place where the entire community can come and enjoy programming, music, theater, dance, performing arts,” said John Williams, the director of Community Education at DUSD and The Vista. “So, that was really the intent.”
But thanks to a tanking economy right as it opened, the plan never really got off the ground.
“2008 was a tough time in Surprise,” Mr. Williams said. ““We had a housing boom and then we were bottom of the barrel — foreclosures, the economy was down, and like everything else the arts was suffering at that time. Timing was a challenge.”
Now that economic conditions are more solid, DUSD officials are hoping now is the time to put it to its full use.
“We’ve seen some successful uses like this in other areas — the Madison [Center for the Arts in Phoenix] and Del Web Center in Wickenburg,” Mr. Williams said. “They do very well, and it’s a multi-use public facility there as well. Seeing those successes, I think it just presented an incredible opportunity for Dysart because this is the largest venue west of [Interstate] 17.”
Superintendent Quinn Kellis spoke its praises Feb. 12 in front of the DUSD Governing Board.
“This wonderful facility is waking up,” Mr. Kellis told them.
How it stacks up
Putting The Vista on footing for professional programming automatically makes it a player in the Valley scene.
Its seating capacity is bigger than such venues as the Tempe Center for the Arts, the Crescent Ballroom and the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, just to name a few.
Upgrades are planned over the next several years, including moving the soundboard from a box in the back of the theater to down on the floor where professional performers prefer it to be for acoustic perfection.
DUSD officials would also like to upgrade the dressing rooms performers would use in the back of the hall. The rooms there are currently classrooms that the theater class uses.
Mr. Williams said plans are in the works for professional drapes that would sequester off a space for performers inside the big classroom space.
With six shows on the early schedule, it’s a far cry from district officials envision years down the line.
“We’ll expand on it,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s going to grow, but this year we want to measure [crowds].”
To do that, Mr. Williams booked a variety of acts to see what the local market likes best.
“We got the family act with the magician. And we want to see how the community takes to that. The Hit Men is kind of your ‘70s and ‘80s crowd in rock music. Count Basie is our jazz orchestra to see how that sells it the area. With the Drifters we want to see if our senior population, our baby boomers if they’re attracted to something like it.
With a venue that could be operating most of the year, the district needs to hire somebody to manage it.
Mr. Kellis estimated that it could have programming 300 days a year, which is an ambitious goal, considering Peoria books about 200 events a year at its 274-seat Peoria Center for the Arts venue.
The board Feb. 12 voted to create the full-time position of theater technician manager, paid for by Community Education funding, to help manage that workload.
“Whenever you have a professional venue, you need to have somebody who is in charge of the lights, sound, all the equipment, any cabling, networking, the Wi-FI, the IT, if there are risers, if there are riggings, any or all equipment related to the operation of a show,” Mr. Kellis said.
Mr. Kellis said the position wasn’t needed in the past because the theater “hasn’t been active as a community venue.”
“We want our students and anybody else who uses that facility to have the very best of service,” Mr. Kellis said.
The governing board also approved a paid theater management intern that would be eligible for CTE credits as well.
What’s on tap
Here’s what specifically Surprise residents and those nearby can see over the next few months, starting on back-to-back nights Saturday, Feb. 29 and Sunday, March 1 with a pair of unique programs.
First up is French-born Xavier Mortimer the Magician, who will take the stage at 6 p.m. on the 29th. The 39-year-old former “America’s Got Talent” contestant has been voted “Best Magic Show” in Las Vegas for his performances at Bally’s.
The Hit Men are up the next night with an 8 p.m. concert of classic songs.
Billed as “classic rock’s unique supergroup of legendary side men,” the Hit Men are also called “The Wrecking Crew” of a new generation.
Band members have played with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Frankie Valli, Foreigner, The Who, Toto, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce and The Rascals.
“They’ve got a loud sound,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s cool.”
Recent concerts have included the songs “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey, “Africa” by Toto, and “Pinball Wizard” by Mr. John.
The group consists of group founder Lee Shapiro (keyboardist), Jimmy Ryan (lead guitarist/vocalist), Jeff Ganz (bassist/vocalist), Russ Velazquez (keyboardist, percussionist and vocalist ) and Steve Murphy (drummer and vocalist).
Fans of Pink Floyd will be thrilled on Friday, March 20 when “Shine on Floyd” takes the stage at 8 p.m. The Phoenix- based band plays Pink Floyd’s music note-for-note, and adds in stage and light shows for good measure.
A two-night stand for the Count Basie Orchestra is coming in early April. The famous jazz band will play Tuesday, April 7 and Wednesday, April 8 at the Vista. The band has performed in movies, TV shows and commercials. It’s also won 18 Grammy Awards, the most for any orchestra.
Fans of doo-wop music are in for a treat Saturday, April 11 when The Drifters makes a stop at the Vista.
Surprise residents will be able to hear a juke box of hits that night. A recent concert in England included the hits, “On Broadway,” “Under the Boardwalk,” This Magic Moment,” “Stand By Me,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and “My Girl” — an embarrassment of riches.
Ticket prices for the first six shows are reasonable — mostly ranging between $15 to $45, making it not too bad for a family of four to attend a show.
The Vista’s online site allows buyers to select tickets by a specific seat or the best ticket available.
People can buy tickets in person as well, as the box office is open from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. daily.
The Vista’s Twitter site went live Jan. 22 and features a 40-second ad for the Hit Men show.
During the days leading up to the Super Bowl, the district used a promo code to give at $10 discount for tickets for the upcoming schedule.
Organizers are also making a push for the tourist population that comes in for spring training and seasonal residents looking for entertainment in this area.
“Everybody has their own niche, and that’s what we’re looking for right now,” Mr. Williams said. “We’re figuring out what our community wants, what our region wants and then providing that.”
Ms. Ryon said the venue’s concourse can hold smaller events, like banquets and art shows.
“It’s been a long-time coming that they’ve wanted this to become a community center,” Ms. Ryon said. “We know it will take a few years to get this going.”
The governing board members seem to agree of the venue’s potential.
“I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the community and our relationship with them,” Board President Jay Leonard said.
The Vista will continue to be used for school events at Valley Vista and other DUSD schools that need it.
Valley Vista is hosting its school talent show there at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28.
The school’s theater department will present “Much Ado About Nothing” in the venue at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 26.
Valley Vista will also be presenting “Mamma Mia!” for four shows Friday, April 16 through Sunday, April 18.
It will also still be open to be utilized as a rental space as it has over the last decade-plus.
The West Valley Symphony performs there regularly, plus various dance recitals have taken place over the years.
A Beatles tribute band “Abbey Road” played the venue in 2011. It’s even been host for the Ms. Senior Arizona Pageant.
Mr. Williams said the district would like to add more holiday-themed and Latino programing to its future slate.
To schedule an event at The Vista, contact Maya Courtright at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 623-876-7917.
The Vista is available after 4 p.m. weekdays, all day Saturdays and after noon on Sundays.
Editor’s note: Jason Stone can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @thestonecave. Visit yourvalley.net.