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Multi-Million Dollar Arts Complex Opens In Folsom

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, February 11, 2011

As you would expect, Three Stages has three venues: an 850-seat concert hall with a stage big enough for ballet, and two smaller halls. Plus there are classrooms, rehearsal spaces, a recording studio, a scene shop and an art gallery.

It's an impressive complex. But one of its most important features is actually quite simple - cloth curtains. In the 100-seat recital hall, curtains can be mechanically deployed on all four walls. Dave Pier is the executive director of Three Stages.

PIER:  "Yeah, this space is quite remarkable. It can change its acoustical characteristics dramatically depending on whether or not these acoustical curtains that surround the room are pulled in, or pulled out."

Three Stages 2To demonstrate, I got some help from a certain cellist I know. Here's how my son Stephen sounds with all the curtains fully deployed.

(Bach Cello Suite, no reverb).

The curtains soak up the sound, so there's almost no reverb. After the staff withdrew the curtains, exposing smooth, tawny wood-paneled  walls, we tried the cello again.

(Bach Cello Suite, with reverb)

The difference was striking, with the music lingering in the air as the sound reflected off the walls.

Retractable fabrics also line the main theater, which features a curving, horseshoe-shaped balcony. The front section of the stage is mounted on a hydraulic lift which can drop the section below floor level, making it an orchestra pit.

PIER: "It's tremendously strong but also very precise in the location of the lift."

Right next to the main hall is the 200-seat black box theater, for plays and amplified jazz. Again, Dave Pier.

PIER: "All these spaces need to be acoustically isolated from each other, and we've actually done some testing on that already. We actually had the Afro-Cuban Funk Band in the City Studio Theater we're in now. Walk into the big theater, and you couldn't hear this jazz band that was playing next door."

So how did this expensive new complex get built during a prolonged recession?

Three Stages 3The answer goes back to March 2002, when the economy was booming. Area voters approved a facilities bond for the Los Rios Community College District, which basically made Folsom Lake College possible. Ordinarily, a new community college gets a fairly limited facility for music and theater.

SCOTT-SKILLMAN: "The state will fund a performing arts center only to the tune of 400 seats or so."

But college president Thelma Scott-Skillman, the college president wanted to do something larger - something that would also help establish the new college in the region.

SCOTT-SKILLMAN: "What we decided to do was a feasibility study to understand whether or not our region would be willing to support financially an expanded facility to bring in larger performance groups."

The study showed that there was no performing arts complex along the Highway 50 corridor between Sacramento and Placerville, an area populated by hundreds of thousands of residents.

So the college launched a $4.3 million capital campaign to help fund a larger complex.  The project also qualified for additional state funds.

Then - as the recession bit during 2006 and 2007 -- the price of construction came down. Three Stages broke ground in 2008. So you could say they timed it exactly right, or maybe they just got lucky.

Along with touring national acts, area arts groups are lining up to use the new facility. Michael Neumann conducts the Folsom Symphony.

NEUMANN: "Any orchestra loves to play in a concert hall and a stage that has wonderful acoustical properties. There's no question that from the orchestra's perspective, this will be fantastic, but also for the audience, because it is designed for acoustics."

The Sacramento Philharmonic, the Sacramento Ballet and the California Theatre Center are also booked for multiple performances. Arts groups are planning family friendly fare at Three Stages. They're hoping that Folsom folks  - who've driven 30 minutes to Sacramento, or an hour to the Mondavi Center in the past - will like having a performing arts center close to home.

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