HomeDecember 2011Acoustical & Accessible

Acoustical & Accessible

There’s a new performing arts center in South County located on the Soka University of America campus in Aliso Viejo.
For those who don’t know about the private, non-profit, liberal arts college and graduate school, it’s situated on 103 acres of land and was founded on the Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life.  It offers a non-sectarian curriculum that is open to top students of all nationalities and religious beliefs.
The campus offers generous tuition scholarships for those undergraduates who are eligible (room and board are separate), small classrooms (9:1 student-teacher classroom ratios), the opportunity for everyone to study abroad for at least one semester during the junior year, internships and a career counseling office — just for starters.  The school regularly hosts Nobel laureate speakers such Sir Joseph Rotblat, Betty Williams and Shirin Ebad through the dean’s office.
The mission statement of Soka University is to “foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.”
David Palmer, general manager of the Performing Arts Center (PAC), explains that this was what was behind the new venue which officially opened on September 17 of this year.   “We had two important thoughts.  One was that this was a part of our mission statement to educate globally in a creative way and extend world class music into the community and make connections.  Two, we really thought that South County didn’t  have a nice location for large group meetings, our forum classes and great acoustics to properly show off the music we wanted to share.”
Palmer admits to being partial to the state-of-the-art building and is quick to say that great care went into making sure that while the auditorium easily holds up to 1,000 people-that it was important that it maintained a very warm and intimate feel.
“What makes us different from, let’s say, Segerstrom Hall, Irvine Barclay Theatre or Claire Trevor/Cheng Hall on the UCI campus is that for those of us here in south county, this is far more accessible.  Let’s face it, if you live in San Clemente or out in the canyon areas like Rancho Santa Margarita and Ladera Ranch-the other venues can be quite a long drive, especially during the evening hours!    Acoustically speaking, our only rival is probably, in my opinion, Disney Hall.  And that’s clear out in Los Angeles!  Many critics who have visited us agree.  I know Tim Mangan from the OC Register came to one of our first shows and absolutely loved it and said so in one of his columns!”
The university wants to use the space to its fullest potential.  In this, its inaugural season, Palmer says that the university is focusing on finding classical works that work best in the space, but has also put together a series of jazz performances and solo performances as well.
“Because of Soka’s seven-year history of global diversity, our programming is being put together to promote that kind of humanity, part and parcel if you will,” states Palmer.
Besides the various performances, Soka is also reaching out in a tie-in culinary way.  “Right now, we’re offering a pre-dinner buffet at our campus Soka Bistro café at the same time as our Jazz Monsters series.  It’s reasonably priced at $10.50, and we’re really quite proud of all our chefs!   All of us here enjoy the quality and flavors.  For the buffet, the Bistro offers a wide variety of hot and cold entrees that range from traditional to vegetarian to ethnic!  We have a salad bar, a grill station, sandwiches, two soups and a dessert section.  Honestly, the cookies are to die for!  I can’t pass through the cafeteria or the cafe without picking one out for my personal enjoyment!” says Palmer.
The pre-dinner buffet availability will extend to the other programming as time and growth permit.
When Palmer was putting together the center’s first list of programming he had a “must-have docket” of sorts that he wanted to follow in order to show the surrounding communities why this should be their new destination for listening to everything pertaining to the musical arts.  “It was actually a pretty good sized check list.  I had a lot of demo tapes to listen to.  Live auditions to enjoy too.   What we decided on was that we wanted to have four symphony performances, four chamber groups, six to eight jazz shows (which have been dubbed the Monster series) and other shows that met our mission goals.  We wanted the shows to have an impact on people’s lives.  We do plan on including dance theatre as well.” says Palmer.
Another part of being included in the various performance showcases is that the school really wants the artists to consider doing residencies with the campus and hold master classes with not only the college students but at the local high schools and even the various senior centers.  “We see this as a win-win for everyone!” remarks Palmer.
The university is very proud of how beautiful the center is — both inside and outside.  “It really is gorgeous!  For those who haven’t been to our campus, we’d love for you to come by and take a look around.  I promise it will be a great visit!  How can this miss?  We have beautiful surroundings, great shows, good food, we’re close by, pricing is very fair and the acoustics are world class,” adds Palmer.
One of the greatest hopes of Soka University is that the Performing Arts Center will create a lasting and warm relationship with the community and that everyone will come to know what it really represents, what it hopes to bring to everyone’s lives.  Soka officials know that the growth will be gradual, but this is their home and they want everyone else to feel that they can come and enjoy the campus as part of their daily lives as well.  “I see us as being in a grassroots campaign.  We want to be a big part of where people come to get a sense of what is global and how they can learn about it right here in their own backyard,” says Palmer.
In that vein, Palmer wants everyone to know that the campus is very open to people suggesting performance ideas, performers and classes.  “Again we are a not-for-profit based liberal arts university.  Our goal is to unite us all through art and education.  I encourage people to send me an e-mail via Dpalmer@soka.edu.”
For those interested, campus tours are given Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m…  The campus is located at:  1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656.  The phone number is:  (949) 480-4000.

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