Eileen IversCeltic fiddler Eileen Ivers and her band, Immigrant Soul, at the PAC in December 2008.

The Performing Arts Center: A Cultural Destination

The Buffalo State Performing Arts Center at Rockwell Hall (PAC) holds 150 events every year. The PAC is a college facility that funds its own programming through ticket sales and sponsorships. If anything is left over after paying performers and ancillary staff (mostly students), the PAC donates it to the School of Arts and Humanities, to which it belongs.

Jeff Marsha is the PAC’s director of operations. In addition to Marsha, the PAC employs Dawn Pustelnik, audience services manager; Tom Kostusiak, production manager; Tracey Trietley, who serves as office manager; and, through the Buffalo State College Foundation, Tom Ochs, assistant production manager. “One of our four full-time employees is on site for every event,” Marsha said.

The two main series presented by the PAC are the Great Performers Series and Artsplorations. Artsplorations presents performances that are, for the most part, based on children’s literature. Tickets are $5 per student, and the experience introduces students to live performances.

Last year, Artsploration presented eight shows, including Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (based on a book by Judith Viorst and suitable for grades K–3) and Super Scientific Circus, a show designed to show third- through eighth-graders that science can be both fun and funny.

“Teachers love the series,” said Marsha. “Often, their students read the book in class, and then they see how the book becomes a play.”

Artsploration was in existence before Marsha came on board, but he introduced the Great Performers Series. “I wanted the PAC to run in the black,” he said. He’s been successful; the PAC has generated enough revenue to make a donation to Arts and Humanities every year since 2002. The series also furthers the college’s commitment to being a cultural destination.

Rockwell Hall is one of the five original Elmwood Avenue campus buildings that date back to 1931. Earlier, the space that now contains the PAC was known as Rockwell Auditorium. Generations of students remember it as the place where chapel and “assembly”—a gathering of all students and faculty—were held. In 1970, fire damaged the space, and it remained closed until a major renovation of the Rockwell Hall auditorium was completed in 1987. At that time, the space became a performing arts center seating 850 people. “That’s our current capacity,” said Marsha. “All the seats are good, too. We have only 26 rows.”

Marsha has spent more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. He was a music promoter for many years, and he continues to play trombone with the JJ Swing band. He frequently takes the stage at the beginning of a show. “I like to loosen the audience up,” said Marsha, “and thank our sponsors.

“We focus on music,” he said, “because the space is so well suited for it.” In fact, the Music Department has first claim on the PAC, and many student and faculty concerts are held there during the academic year.

The PAC is also host to several college events including the annual Academic, Honors, and EOP Honors convocations. Last year, several outstanding individuals spoke, including Cornel West, professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University and one of America’s most provocative public intellectuals. Many community groups also rent the space.

The 2009–2010 Great Performers series will include a repeat visit by Roger McGuinn, founder of the Byrds, and the Velveteen Rabbit will be staged through Artsplorations. “Every day is different,” said Marsha. “It’s a great job.”