by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
Since the grand re-opening of the Tower Theatre in 2004, Bend’s iconic venue has welcomed a vast array of headliners and productions onto the stage. Managed by the non-profit Tower Theatre Foundation, the programming team works hard to secure big names that will bring in sold-out crowds, but the essence of the foundation’s commitment to supporting the community can be found in their educational outreach productions and local non-profit relationships.
“Ten years ago the community said they want the Tower Theatre; it’s the community that saved her. We have always felt a responsibility to give back,” said Foundation Development Director Todd Dickerson. The theatre’s $4.2 million renovation was made possible through years of campaigning and fundraising, and Central Oregon rose to the challenge.
“We want Bend [and Central Oregon] to know we have family friendly offerings from a content and price standpoint,” Dickerson said. “And we want to grow those offerings.”
The Tower’s educational programming falls under The LessonPLAN (Performing Live Arts Now) series, and while targeted at school-aged children, families of all ages can enjoy the evening performances at affordable rates of $5 – $10. “We know that we bring great value with these programs, and we hope we can spread the word so more folks will come to the evening shows.”
“We love to see kids come to the theatre if they have never been here before and see their eyes light up,” he said.
Each LessonPLAN program comes with materials to aid teachers and students in getting the most out of the presentation; last year the shows reached 4,000 kids.
Some programs have toured the country and already have an excellent set of study materials, if not, the Tower taps into their volunteer base (including former curriculum directors) to help them create the materials, and the Foundation is currently working to form an educational outreach committee.
“We try to provide theater etiquette to the students as well,” Dickerson said. “Like what they will see, what it will be like and what is expected of them…like no standing on chairs!…We teach the teachers how to use the materials because they have enough to do. We want to make it as seamless and easy as possible, then we follow up and make sure it was a win-win.”
2013’s slate of LessonPLAN programs include Warriors Don’t Cry, a one-woman show focused on the 1957 struggle to end segregation in schools; Gizmo Guys with a bunch of tricks up their sleeves to help teach science and physics through juggling and sleight of hand; Lewis & Clark, an interactive voyage of discovery through the eyes of some of our greatest explorers; and Turtle Island Quartet, two –time Grammy winners introduce intergenerational classical chamber music.
As equally important as their educational mission, the Tower Theatre Foundation has worked to become “Bend’s living room” by supporting a variety of non-profits with discounted space rentals. The Tower hosted 116 non-profit use days last year.
“When non-profits to decide to rent the Tower, they have the whole staff at their disposal, we go all out,” Dickerson said. “We love to see the community using it, we wish we could give it away, but we have to recoup some of the expense to open the doors.” Rates are discounted about 25 percent.
“[Non-profits] can be diverse on our stage, there is some real legitimacy to what you can do when you are here. The Education Foundation has trivia bee that happens every year and it’s a huge portion of the funding they accomplish.
“We make it as first class as it can be… I am always happy to visit with the non-profits to help them generate [a plan] as they might not have a development staff. I can help to make those connections,” Dickerson explained.
“As we enter into this 10 year anniversary we want to celebrate all that has happened [with the Tower over the years]. We want to move forward and have really given attention to how we can have a greater community impact. I think you will see initiatives from us in the coming year and beyond that are new and exciting, and are really all about serving the community and doing things that no one else can do.”