Chris Heacox

If Chris Heacox had to pick one word to describe the work that has thus far gone into creating Alabama's first land-grant university performing arts center, he might choose "intentional."

If Chris Heacox had to pick one word to describe the work that has thus far gone into creating Alabama's first land-grant university performing arts center, he might choose "intentional."

The future Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center executive director used the word continuously while referring to design details during a presentation at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce this week. With two years being spent solely on planning the new facility, it's not hard to see why.

The performing arts center has been meticulously designed to align with several goals, including creating an intimate performance space with optimal acoustics, making the building environmentally friendly and ensuring the Auburn brand is incorporated throughout.

Instead of a traditional red stage curtain, Heacox anticipates selecting a gray, blue or even an orange hue. A red carpet at the center's entrance? Not in this city.

"You'll notice we do not have a red carpet, we have a what carpet?" Heacox asked the crowd.

"Orange!" the audience responded, while viewing a rendering of the facility's exterior where, sure enough, an orange carpet blankets the drive-through area by the main entrance.

As far as making the center environmentally friendly, design plans show the installation of oversized ceiling fans to circulate air throughout the building as well as the usage of reclaimed wood from Alabama wherever plans call for woodwork.

Community members will get to see these details and many others at the performing arts center's grand opening in August 2019, which, while still 606 days away (Heacox and staff are, in fact, counting the days) is already outlined to be a four-day affair.

"We're going to open it with a four-day festival," Heacox said. The festival will start during the first week of Auburn University classes in August 2019.

"We'll start on a Thursday and that will be a performance for our students on campus, and Friday will be a performance for the general public," he said. "Saturday will be the opening gala for the building, and Sunday will be our family day. So, we will have set performances throughout that time, but we will also have a lot of other fun things that I don't want to go into now."

Heacox promised a lot of activity both at the new center and the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art across the street.

After that, he anticipates giving theater staff a month or so to fix any technical issues that surfaced during the grand opening. In October, the opening season will start.

"The first season we will probably have about 20-ish performances," he said. "My goal is to get it to 30-35. This is not going to just be an October to April series. The fact that we have an outdoor venue also allows us to be able to do festivals and summer performances as well. This is going to be a 12-month venue."

Aside from the versatile indoor performance theater, which will seat up to 1,200, the facility's outdoor venue will include an amphitheater with surrounding parking spaces intended for food trucks. The indoor lobby will also have areas where speakers or performances can be held for up to 200 audience members.

The idea is for these spaces to be used for many different events outside of the professional performance season. 

"Whoever wants to use it, as long as there is availability, can use it," he said. "It's going to be based on usage time, so we're setting schedules for what we think our uses are going to be and the university's uses are going to be, and then it's going to go from there."

Heacox said he'd love to see tailgating events held at the outdoor venue.

"I drove down to Starbucks on South College to get coffee on the Wednesday before the Georgia game, and there are people lined up already tailgating, and I'm like, 'These are people that need things to do,' " he said. "We're looking at options to activate the space during game time."

As far as the professional performance season, the sky is the limit. Heacox said a season can hold everything from bluegrass, classical and jazz musical performances to theatrical, dance and Broadway shows. He looks for artists that will come to Auburn not only to perform, but to engage with the community. In this vein, the center will host educational programming for university students and grades K-12.

"(Artists) want to be able to give context after their performances to explain what they were thinking," he said. "These artists are artists who live in other communities and create this work and take it to other communities and understand the importance of engaging audiences."

He closes his presentation with a story about when he brought Tony Bennett to perform in Tallahassee, Florida, where Heacox used to work at Florida State University. He said Bennett would walk his dog around downtown, stop and talk to people. He also booked Yo-Yo Ma, who then went out in the community to discover local eateries.

"There was this sense of community that is created by these artists who come in and like being a part of the community; it's so cool," he said. "When I moved here and saw all the cool things that are here, it makes me excited about bringing people here ... I don't know if everyone really understands the impact that this is going to have on people in our community."

Heacox will conduct another public presentation on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Auburn Alumni Center.

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