The new Argyros Performing Arts Center became a game changer even before it opened.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony’s executive director Derek Dean announced at the end of the summer symphony season that his organization was so intrigued by the capabilities of the new theater that they would stage a Winter Festival featuring symphony musicians and guest artists, in February.
And leaders of other groups, including the Sun Valley Opera and Sun Valley Forum, were quick to book dates in the building, which is being billed as a world-class venue designed to match the world-class skiing, musical and art opportunities that surround it.
It’s expected that the new theater will elevate the experience of the audience, even as it helps create a sustainable economy for the Wood River Valley, said Tim Mott, vice-chair of the theater’s board, who has been championing a new theater for 18 years.
“We hope it will be busy year-round with local groups, as well as some exciting national and international acts, including art forms that haven’t been seen in this community,” said Margaret Hamamoto, the theater’s marketing and development director.
The $15 million theater built on the site of the old nexStage Theatre opened with a gala cocktail party for founding donors the evening after Thanksgiving. And it’s been bustling ever since.
“It’s our hope the café and 2,000-square foot plaza will be a community gathering place,” said the theater’s executive director, Douglas Rankin, who was instrumental in founding the acclaimed Irvine Barclay Theatre in California. “We’d like to see the lobby buzzing with people enjoying themselves, as is the case in London theaters, for instance.”
The theater is named for Julia and George Argyros, a real estate developer and former U.S. ambassador and owner of the Seattle Mariners. The couple gave $2.5 million to get the project off the ground. And Julia and daughter Lisa turned the first spades of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony in July 2017, as longtime nexStage Theatre manager Kathy Wygle staged a symbolic building breaking, smashing in the door of the nexStage Theatre with a sledgehammer.
Tim Mott and the Michael E. Marks Family Foundation stepped up to the plate with another $2 million. And Elizabeth and Thomas Tierney donated money (and their name) for the main theater, while Grace Harvey and John Bailey funded what is now known as the 99-seat Bailey Studio.
The theater, which boasts black and white colors with warm, gray and natural wood accents, was inspired by the 283-seat Strand Theater in San Francisco. Ketchum architect Michael Doty designed the 25,000-square-foot building to fit a 55-foot-by-218-foot footprint. And the San Francisco theater design company Auerbach Pollock Friedlander honed the building into the theater that it is today.
“Nothing was overlooked as far as quality goes,” said Hamamoto.
The state-of-the-art technology attracted representatives of performing arts centers across the United States to see what was going in before the theater even opened.
“Our technology is ahead of its time, even for most of the artists who will perform here,” said Rankin.
The Sun Valley Center for the Arts has booked the center for music and dance performances and hopes to do the same for lectures in the future.“One of the things we’re excited about is the lobby space that will allow us to have pre- and post-event conversations,” said Kristin Poole, artistic director for The Center. “It’s always frustrating to have a fantastic event and have to scoot out the door immediately following.”
The new center will make performing easier for groups like the Sun Valley Hallelujah Chorus, which has its Christmas concert scheduled for Dec. 22 and a performance of Handel’s “The Messiah” on Dec. 23. The sound system will eliminate the hassle of setting up microphones for the group, said chorus member Heather Johnston.
“It’s state-of-the-art everything, which should take us up to another level,” said Patty Parsons, who founded the Sun Valley Hallelujah Chorus. “The way they explained it to me is that they can make us sound like mice or men.”The Argyros provides nonprofit organizations with special rates, Rankin said. But audience members should be prepared to see ticket prices rise to reflect the better audience experience that the theater offers, he added. The Sun Valley Hallelujah Chorus, for instance, is selling tickets for the first time due to the increased expense of renting the facility.
“But everyone will reap the benefits from its functionality and value,” Rankin said. “It’s for everybody to enjoy and everybody to support