Showtime in the Rockies: Vilar Performing Arts Center celebrates 20 years in Beaver Creek (Part 1) | VailDaily.com

Showtime in the Rockies: Vilar Performing Arts Center celebrates 20 years in Beaver Creek (Part 1)

Tom Boyd
Vail Valley Foundation

Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series celebrating 20 years of performances at one of Colorado's most successful performing arts centers, the Vilar Performing Arts Center, located in the center of Beaver Creek Village beneath the Black Family Ice Rink. Tom Boyd is former editor of the Vail Trail newspaper, and a lifelong valley local who has attended scores of shows at the VPAC. He is also director of public relations and communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, which manages and operates the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

If it wasn't the most adventurous idea Gordon Pierce had ever proposed, it was certainly in top contention. There was a moment of surprise, followed by a few seconds where everyone wondered if Pierce was actually serious.

"We all looked at him like he was crazy," remembers Harry Frampton.

"What amazed people most was how such a complex structure could be built so deeply, right in the middle of everything," remembers John Horan-Kates.

“If somebody had come to you and said, ‘Hey we’ve got a great idea

— we’re going to build a performing arts center and we’re going to put it underground, where it has no visibility, and it’s only going to have 500 seats, and it will be in a resort town where very few people are going to be there seasonally, and we’re going to put world-class entertainment in there, and after all that, we’re going to make it financially viable’

— they would have looked at you and said you were absolutely crazy.”Doug RippetoVilar Performing Arts Center chairman, 2004-2016

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"Looking back, it was kind of a miracle," recalls Doug Rippeto.

A plethora of people contributed to the idea, and the vision, to build a performing arts center right in the center of Beaver Creek Village, but there was only one small problem: there was no room in Beaver Creek Village for a performing arts center.

According the patchwork of memories from those who were there (and some who heard the story later), Pierce was the one who finally, and boldly, vocalized the idea to dig down deep, and build a world-class performing arts theater beneath the ice rink, right square in the center of the village. Ross Bowker, of East West Partners, took the suggestion to heart and put together a team to raise the funds, design and build the remarkable structure.

A little more than 20 years later, and the Vail Valley Foundation's Vilar Performing Arts Center has become one of the great performing arts success stories of the Rocky Mountain region. Its improbable location at the base of a world-renowned ski area, its high-caliber acts and its wide diversity of shows and programs have made it one of the most well-known, and well-beloved, performance spaces in the region.

This season, the Vilar Performing Arts Center celebrates its 20th year of bringing concerts, dance, classical, Broadway, opera, comedy, family programming and more to the Vail Valley and the surrounding region. Like a magnet, the VPAC has pulled visitors from around the world to Beaver Creek, bringing vitality and culture to the resort.

It has also become the bright red thread in the social and cultural fabric of the community, hosting more than 8,000 students per year through its S.T.A.R.S. programming, plus more than 60 events, ceremonies, memorials and conferences to go along with its more than 70 ticketed performances per year.

'Absolutely crazy' idea

It's easy to look back now and see the wisdom in the idea of building the VPAC. In the mid-'90s, however, when Pierce and a handful of Beaver Creek leaders, architects and planners gathered to decide the details of the next big phase of development of Beaver Creek Village, the entire project looked quite daunting.

Doug Rippeto, who served as the chairman of the VPAC from 2004 to 2016, puts it this way:

"If somebody had come to you and said, 'Hey we've got a great idea — we're going to build a performing arts center and we're going to put it underground, where it has no visibility, and it's only going to have 500 seats, and it will be in a resort town where very few people are going to be there seasonally, and we're going to put world-class entertainment in there, and after all that, we're going to make it financially viable' — they would have looked at you and said you were absolutely crazy."

And yet, here we are. The VPAC is coming off a summer season where it had 95.5 percent occupancy, and heads into a season that boasts a lineup of hit after hit: Tony Award-winning "Kinky Boots" and "Rent" will bring full-scale, first-rate Broadway to Beaver Creek again this winter, while dance programming includes Ailey II: The Next Generation of Dance, Siro-A, BalletX and more. There will be three performances of the Golden Dragon Acrobats and humor from Jim Gaffigan, Capitol Steps and others throughout the season.

Music offerings are too many to list but include Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, Bela Fleck & Brooklyn Rider, DeVotchKa, Snarky Puppy, not to mention Rising Stars of the Opera, which brings opera's future stars to Beaver Creek in a performance entirely unique to the VPAC.

The power of live entertainment

The above is just a sample of the jam-packed winter season this thriving concert venue enjoys. Current executive director Duncan Horner says he agrees with Rippeto that success in the performing arts, especially during the digital age, is somewhat of a challenge.

"The question has become, how do we differentiate live entertainment," Horner said. "So many people are now engaging in entertainment with their headphones on, with tablets and with video-gaming, and certainly the new media landscape has changed it all.

"But that kind of entertainment isn't a shared experience," Horner continues. "Our main challenge with some audiences is simply bringing them through our doors. Once we accomplish that, and they are drawn into the comfortable intimate setting with the acoustics and amenities you expect to find in top-tier metro theaters, then there is no turning back. It's something they never forget and they share that experience with others, and in many ways that is what is feeding our success."

It's easy to see how the architecture of the building itself is working in Horner's favor. The 530-seat theater also has two, 2,200 square-foot lobbies, and a 2,000 square-foot May Gallery Patrons Lounge. Littman's Kunstler theatre in Munich provided inspiration for the wood-paneled columns, walls and ceilings that are combined with the curved horseshoe seating layout also found in many traditional European halls.

Even without a show on the stage, the theater can often be breathtaking. Designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of Los Angeles, in cooperation with Pierce Segerberg and Associates, the building is able to host the entirety of an orchestra or a Broadway performance, yet is intimate enough to make a soloist's performance feel like it's taking place in your very own living room.

It has been 20 years since the venue opened, but thanks to continued capital investment from the Beaver Creek community, it's hard to tell the venue is anything but sparkling new. A revamp of theater seating (including the popular drink holders), new carpet, new lighting systems, improved sound monitoring equipment, a new stage floor and much more have kept the VPAC on the very leading edge of contemporary performing arts technology and comfort.

Learn more about the upcoming season, or how you can support the Vilar Performing Arts Center, by visiting http://www.vilarpac.org or calling the box office at 970-748-TIXS.

If you go …

What: Vilar Performing Arts Center 20th anniversary season.

When: All winter long.

More information: Visit http://www.vilarpac.org or call 970-748-TIXS.