Ever since there was even talk of a possible Smith Center for the Performing Arts, folks have been wondering what the fate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Performing Arts Center program at Artemus Ham Hall would be.
Attendance at the hall has been anemic of late, with little indication the downward spiral won’t continue. The Smith Center may well have come to satisfy the city’s hunger for professional dance, symphonies and cabaret. The campus lineups, on the other hand, have never had much consistency or identity. The defunct “Best of the New York Stage” series there at least told you what you were getting. Now, my impression is that few seem to understand why the arts center exists. Is it competing with The Smith Center? Or is it trying to offer something The Smith Center can’t?
I’d suggest The Smith Center is too new and well-sold right now for the UNLV program to either compete or supplement. But if the center could offer something The Smith Center can’t, then maybe it would be in serious business again.
I got a whiff of a possibility when watching Sunday night’s stimulating production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” by the late John Houseman’s touring New York Acting Company. The show, also sparsely attended, is something no one in Vegas is giving us on a regular basis: professional touring dramas. The caliber of character development, movement, intensity, vocal variety, confidence and understatement were of the likes we rarely see around these parts. I was made aware of how much I’ve been missing. We have some fine community theaters, and some expert touring musicals, but we are serious-drama starved.
I’m not sure the Performing Arts Center could fill that niche and be successful. I don’t know if the small audiences at “Of Mice and Men” are indications of ineffective marketing, disinterest in the venue (Ham Hall’s barn of a theater is not the best place for nonspectacle), or simply Las Vegans’ lack of enthusiasm for drama in general.
But I suspect if the center is going to survive, it will have to give people some expectation when they hear the name. So I’m wondering: If they got the word out that this is the place to come – the only local place to come – for the best of New York’s professional plays, might our many local theater lovers become interested?
At the very least, the center will have to do a better job of telling Vegas who it is and why locals should care. I’m no businessman. But I was aware as I was watching “Of Mice and Men” that I was getting something valuable not available anywhere else. …
■ CORRECTION – In my recent review of Poor Richard’s Players’ “The Pillowman” – which runs through Nov. 4 at Las Vegas Little Theatre’s Fischer Black Box (lvlt.org) – I misspelled the name of actor Cory Goble in the lead role of an interrogating policeman.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at email@example.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.