Bring it on!

A glance at the 2001-02 season of entertainment at Chico State

Iris Dement performs at the Chico World Music Festival Oct. 6 at Laxson Auditorium

Iris Dement performs at the Chico World Music Festival Oct. 6 at Laxson Auditorium

Yes, they’re wired: A complete calendar of Chico State events is available on the web at

Once again, the fine people at Chico State University have assembled an eclectic and interesting variety of artistic events for the season, one that marks the christening of the much-anticipated new Student Union Activities Center as well as a newly renovated Harlen Adams Theater. It also marks the full-time arrival of two key leadership figures within the campus arts scene.

For those in need of a little background, there are three principal organizations that schedule events on campus, Chico Performances, the School of the Arts and the Associated Students. The first two offer well-planned, themed events seasons in conjunction with the community, while the A.S., a group devoted exclusively to students, takes a more flexible and open planning approach, providing many of the free concerts and assorted student events around campus throughout the year.

The Humanities Center, part of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, provides a public forum for distinguished scholars as well as visiting artists and the recently rejuvenated University Film Series.

In terms of performance venues, we are blessed with a true crown jewel: the wonderful Laxson Auditorium, a beautiful old building that has played host to many of the North State’s more memorable artistic events of the last half-century. Another familiar campus auditorium, the Harlen Adams Theater, isn’t looking too shabby this year either, as you’ll soon find out. The students will no doubt find ample use for the new Student Union Activities Center, located in place of the old BMU Garden Café. The new venue supposedly holds from 500 to 1,000 people and is already booking up with exciting youth-oriented acts.

This school year sees the arrival of a new acting dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, Sarah J. Blackstone, who previously worked as head of the Theater Department. “I’m very excited about the possibilities,” Blackstone says. “In terms of campus events, we [the School of the Arts] have a theme of ‘the American Experience’ that will fit nicely with the ‘Pacific Rim’ theme being offered by University Public Events. … I think it’s important to remember that this country has a diverse cultural history.”

Folkie Arlo Guthrie, bluegrass master Sam Bush and a series honoring such California Native Americans as Loyola Marymount Professor Greg Sarris are just a few of the American Experience events.

“There’s a little disappointment going around recently,” School of the Arts publicist Joe DiMaggio tells me, “because we’ve had some recent thefts across campus, and we’re the latest victims [an investigation was underway as of press time]. … But besides that, there are exciting new things in terms of the entire campus scene: the new Student Union center, the debut of the new North State Symphony, the new look of the Harlen Adams Theater, the Humanity Center Gallery exhibits and the return of the University Film Series” on Tuesday nights in Ayres 106.

DiMaggio says a new ticket window has been installed in the Harlen Adams and the entire atmosphere of the space has been freed up by adding a new lobby and new seats. He also mentions that last December the university built an elevated stage for the theater that means equipment can be moved or orchestras set up to require less space (the stage is able to move vertically to accommodate events).

Another big difference this year, DiMaggio adds, is that the Theater Department’s auditions policy has changed. “Where it used to be each individual play or event held auditions, now we’re having one audition for the entire fall semester,” he explains. Those auditions will be held the week of Aug. 27; check with the department for locations and times.

Taiko drummers Wadaiko Yamoto perform Oct. 23 at Laxson Auditorum.

Plays produced this fall include: Shooting Stars, a story about a women’s basketball team written by Molly Newman and directed by Gail Holbrook (Sept. 25-30); the musical Assassins, a dark critical favorite from Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman (and directed by Joel Rogers) that recounts the lives of nine historical assassins through contemporary music (Oct. 17-21); and The House of Blue Leaves, an intense comedy by John Guare directed by Randy Wonzong (Nov. 6-11).

“The use of a general audition to cast several shows at once is something new for the department,” explained interim Theater Department Chairman Bill Johnson in a press release. “The change is being made to achieve better organization and efficiency in production planning, create better balance in casting and, most important, to allow department faculty to better assess and support student development by seeing all theater majors display their work at the beginning of every semester.” A similar general audition for the spring semester productions will be held in late January.

Another relatively new face on the scene is Dan DeWayne, who has taken over as director of University Public Events and Chico Performances from the longstanding Pat Kopp.

DeWayne is no stranger to arts in the North State. He’s served as UPE associate director for the last three years, and he’s also one of the co-founders of the renowned Strawberry Music Festival near Yosemite, as well as founder (with his wife Christine Myers) of the Chico World Music Festival and the California World Music Festival in Grass Valley. He also co-presented Shakespeare in the Park during the early ‘90s.

Besides being a principal architect in the current scheduling of events, DeWayne is the guy who takes the podium and gets to introduce world-renowned artists to the audience while reminding us of upcoming shows. His department is also in charge of all facility reservations on campus as well as box office operations.

“It should be a wonderful season,” DeWayne says. “The Pacific Rim theme gives a thread to many of our performances, which are representing the culture and artists of many countries surrounding the Pacific: China, Japan, the Philippines, Australia, Mexico, Canada, the U.S (and Hawaii)—which is pretty nice.”

DeWayne says initial box office response has been good and that there are two main areas he is looking to really improve this season.

“First, we’re seeking more partnerships in the community among the music, theater and dance worlds. An example would be our partnership with the Blue Room for the children’s theater production, Bugsy Malone. There’s great talent locally, and we really want to expand our partnerships out there. Second, our outreach programs have been extremely well-received, and we want to continue expanding our ability to bring visiting artists to local schools and other community programs.”

“Taking a theme allows us to explore things more thoroughly,” adds Darren Finney, marketing director for Chico Performances. “Another aspect that’s gotten a great start this year is our field trip series. We have individual performers condense their act into abridged versions, and then local teachers bring in their elementary-school children. That’s been a great success so far.”

DeWayne projects that as many as 30,000 local kids will enjoy field trips to see world-class artists this year at Laxson, a prospect he says is “thrilling for all involved.”

Some selected campus highlights of the upcoming season:

Aug. 30 (Laxson Auditorium) folk legend Arlo Guthrie
Sept. 13 (Student Union) David Grisman Quintet
Sept. 19 (Laxson) Philippine National Dance Company (Bayanihan)
Sept. 21 (Student Union) Michael Franti and Spearhead
Sept. 23 (Laxson) North State Symphony Debut: French Fantastique
Oct. 1-2 (Harlen Adams/Wismer) Presidential scholar: Stanford professor Richard Rorty
Oct. 5-7 (Laxson) Chico World Music Festival featuring Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band and Iris Dement and the Laura Love Duo with Jan Todd (Special All-Festival Pass: $40)
Oct. 5 (Student Union) Hip-hop with Dilated Peoples
Oct. 11 (Student Union) Classic hip-hop with the Pharcyde and Souls of Mischief, Cali Agents
Oct. 12 (Laxson) Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa
Oct. 16 (Student Union) The Jazz Mandolin Project featuring Jamie Mansfield and Jon Fishman (of Phish)
Oct. 19 (Laxson) Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer
Oct. 23 (Laxson) Taiko Drummers from Japan
Nov. 7 (Laxson) Evening with jazz pianist Brad Mehldau
Nov. 8 (Student Union) Spoken word with Henry Rollins
Nov. 15 (Laxson) Celtic vocalist Mary Black
Jan. 28 (Laxson) Afro pop from Baaba Maal
Jan. 30 (Laxson) The always popular Peking Acrobats
Feb. 9 (Laxson) Bluegrass with mandolin wiz Sam Bush
April 4 (Laxson) Buena Vista Social Club presents Omara Portuondo (the female singer from the movie)