When Lauren Murray heard about the opportunity to assume the leadership role at Pasco-Hernando State College’s new Instructional Performing Arts Center — she immediately recognized the possibilities.
She knew the position would give her a chance to use the knowledge and experience she’s accumulated through her professional life.
And, she understood the center’s enormous potential.
Not only will it prepare students for future careers in the performing and technical arts, but it also will provide a venue for performing arts groups and it will create a new place for the community to enjoy the arts, said Murray, a Tampa native with more than 20 years of administrative and academic experience in higher education and the performing arts.
To say she’s excited about her new job would be putting it mildly.
Although it will take some time to get the facility operating in full gear, the college has been giving tours to offer visitors a glimpse of the center’s features and talk up its potential uses.
Photographer Fred Bellet represented The Laker/Lutz News on one of those tours and Murray provided details about the facility for this story.
The center, at 8657 Old Pasco Road, shares a campus with Cypress Creek High School and Cypress Creek Middle School, in Wesley Chapel.
The $18 million project includes the 36,000-square-foot facility, complete with furnishings and state-of-the-art equipment, Murray said. It’s a fully digital system, with the latest available technology in lighting and sound support.
“It gives our students the opportunity to experience very new platforms and the things that are just being brought out right now. These will be the kinds of systems that they’ll be expected to know how to run when they’re out there in the real world,” she said.
The campus includes the 444-seat Weatherford Theater, named for former Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, who played an instrumental role in obtaining funding for the facility.
Murray is pleased with the size of the theater.
“We can get a decent crowd in there, but it’s pretty intimate, so every seat is terrific,” she said.
It also has excellent staging capabilities, and a projection screen that can be used for movies and presentations.
“This is going to be a real performing arts program, where we’ll have instrumental and vocal ensembles. We will have theater productions. We will have dance recitals and productions, as well,” Murray said.
The center’s dance studio has sprung wood floor, a sound system and video system and full wall of mirrors and barres.
The music studio has two acoustical sound rooms, where the acoustics of the room can be adjusted. It also has recording capabilities for practice sessions, so singers can listen to themselves to evaluate how well they are performing, said Murray, who herself is an accomplished oboist and most recently served as the music chair at the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center in Tampa.
The drama studio features a large rehearsal space, which can be used in many ways, Murray said. Additionally, there’s a stage, a full costume studio and two full dressing rooms.
“Our lighting in our dressing rooms is LED, instead of those old bulbs that are 1000 degrees, so that‘s nice — so, your makeup doesn’t melt off,” she said.
The digital production studio has a full lighting grid, state-of-the-art cameras, a sound board, a lighting board and multiple computers.
And, there are two computer classrooms — equipped to prepare students for both the Mac and PC worlds.
In addition to providing opportunities for students, the community also will benefit from being able to enjoy a professional theater experience without having to drive downtown, Murray said.
Much work remains to bring the programming vision to life, she said, adding: “We’re still building our curriculum.”
She expects it to take about a year before students will be staging public performances.
But there will be public rentals for outside performance groups, and that’s expected to begin around September, she said.
The college also is likely to bring in outside performers for a ticketed series, and Murray looks forward to creating multicultural programming, as well.
Future plans also call for staging some outdoor performances.
Beyond what’s happening at IPAC, Murray expects opportunities to develop for its students to land internships or part-time jobs, on their path to careers in the arts.
Murray is delighted with the prospects of what lies ahead.
“It’s quite a thing to open a performing arts center. It’s expensive. It’s different. There’s a lot of new things that you have to figure out,” Murray said.
“A lot of places are like: We can’t do that. We don’t have time for that. We don’t want to fund that,” she said.
That’s not true for PHSC’s commitment to IPAC, she said.
“The support that this place and these programs have here is so exciting. It is going to make it a great program because everybody is on board,” she said.
She’s thrilled about the opportunities the center is creating for students.
“The arts are a viable place to make your living. You do have to work and you do have to be creative to find different ways to make a living in the arts, but it’s still a wholly viable living,” Murray said.
Want to know about available classes? Visit PHSC.edu/academics.
Published June 02, 2021