Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010

New Name, Same Mission for MB Performing Arts Center
Aliana Ramos - for Weekly Surge

The cultural profile of Grand Strand is expected to go up a few notches in September 2012 when the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center - formerly called the Rivoli Theater - is expected to open, more than 10 years since the idea's inception.

For one, the now nomadic Long Bay Symphony and Carolina Master Chorale, who perform everywhere from churches, to spas to schools, will have a permanent place to call home.

Secondly, for those jonesing for the bright lights of Broadway, the new facility will be a go-to destination for stage productions, according to Dale Vivirito, Executive Director of the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center.

"We want to be able to provide more variety," Vivirito said. "Places like the Palace Theater have their own ongoing shows like Le Grand Cirque, which cater to visitors. The [Myrtle Beach] convention center has more seating but they are usually booked a year in advance. We will be booking touring shows, professional children's theater groups. We want community arts groups to perform there."

The performing arts center - tacked onto the convention center - will be able to book performances six months to a year in advance, he said.

In the performing arts center's official business plan, prepared by Vivirito, it lists potential performance targets such as The Blind Boys of Alabama, Chuck Berry and the Moscow Festival Ballet.

Originally the arts center was to be named the Rivoli Theater, in honor of the art deco movie theater that opened in Myrtle Beach in 1958 that sits vacant and in disrepair on Chester Street. But, in July the Rivoli Theatre Group decided to switch the name to the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center.

"We felt that the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center, was a better reflection of what it would be. There are a lot of people who don't even remember the Rivoli and don't know what it was. The performing arts center is exactly that. People will immediately know what it is," Vivirito said.

The 843-seat performing arts center will cost $9.6 million and will be built next to the convention center. The city of Myrtle Beach has agreed to foot about $7.1 million, and the Rivoli Theatre Group will have to fund about $2.5 million.

Fundraising efforts for now are contained to looking for individual donors who are willing to make large contributions, Vivirito said.

The Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center is not the only cultural venue set to open along the Grand Strand. In Georgetown, there has been an effort to restore the Winyah Auditorium since the late 1980s and convert it into a music, theater and dance concert hall.

In 2002, the city of Georgetown, which gained ownership of the auditorium in a land swap deal with the school district, decided to temporarily turn it over to the Tiller brothers, who have an ophthalmology practice. The brothers offered to take on the obligation of restoring the site and turn it back over to the city in 2010, with the exception of some office space that they would retain.

The plans are to have a 300-seat hall in the historic building. The city has spent about $700,000 so far. The sound system and lighting still need to be installed in the building. Seats are expected to go in sometime in October, said Georgetown City Administrator Chris Eldridge.

An important landmark in Georgetown, this Winyah Grade School and High School was built on what had historically been a commons area for the townspeople. The building is one of the few surviving, relatively intact early twentieth century brick school buildings in Georgetown County. The grade school dates back to 1908, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The auditorium and the high school was added in 1924.

"The board members would say it's an important cultural addition to the City of Georgetown. And it does have the potential. The building is beautiful," Eldridge said. "The challenge with all such projects is to make them as self-sustaining as possible. To be successful, it needs to be fully embraced by all of Georgetown."

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