With its coyote mosaic wrapping around the outside of the building and stars lining the ceiling inside the 500-plus seat theatre, the easily recognizable Marjorie Alkek Fine Arts Center has become the heart of fine arts at Weatherford College.
Built in 1998, the Alkek has hosted a variety of nationally-acclaimed performers including The Dixie Chicks, Pat Green, Larry Gatlin, Asleep at the Wheel, Barry Corbin, Broadway star Betty Buckley, jazz great David “Fathead” Newman among others. It has most recently become the home of the Lone Star Guitar Festival which attracts top classical guitarists from across the globe each summer, not to mention top-notch student performances each semester.
“To say that a veritable plethora of musical sounds have permeated the halls of the Alkek in the past 20 years is to state the obvious,” said Cal Lewiston, chair of fine arts and communications. “What may not be quite so clear is the pleasure derived by those who have enjoyed them and returned to WC for more.”
To ring in its 20th anniversary, a variety of events are scheduled for the spring semester including a night of Mozart performed by the Fort Worth Symphony Chamber Orchestra (April 21), a reunion performance of members of the acclaimed WC Jazz Band (April 28), and four performances of “Into the Woods,” the first musical produced in the building in 1998.
Many of the cast members chosen for the 2018 production of “Into the Woods” were involved in some way with the show 20 years ago, including current WC theatre instructor James Brownlee who was a WC student in 1998 and was cast as Prince Charming. His wife, Erin, played the Baker’s Wife. This time around, Brownlee is directing the show.
“It was incredibly exciting when we had our first tour of the Alkek,” Brownlee said, recalling his time as a student. “Finally, we had a real theater with a scene shop and dressing rooms. We were able to learn things that hadn’t been previously available to us because we hadn’t had the facility or the equipment. It profoundly expanded my knowledge of theatre.”
The 2018 cast of “Into the Woods” also includes sixth grader Ellie Hayes, who will play Granny and is the daughter of Michelle Hayes, who played the Witch in 1998; Hayle and Mia Vantine, who will play the Baker’s Wife and Sleeping Beauty, are the daughters of Carol Vantine, who played one of Cinderella’s step-sisters 20 years ago; and Rob Laney, who played Jack and directed the singers in the original Alkek production, is the musical director this go-around.
“We are coming full circle on the building and this production really brings that home for me,” said Mike Endy, WC Vice President of Instruction and Student Services. “The Alkek Center brought to WC what its naming benefactor hoped, a beautiful and welcoming environment for the fine arts and the students who study them.
“Its success is evident when you walk in the front door as, at almost any time of the day or day of the week, there are students working in the building. One walks through the door expecting to hear music coming from down the hall, the voices of actors on the stage, and see artworks in Texas Hall. It has become the norm of the building and a vital part of our college community.”
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The facility was the vision of Dr. Jim Boyd, WC’s president from 1993 to 1998. Funded by a bond issue approved by Parker County voters in 1996, the facility opened in 1998 with a fine arts faculty that included Tom Burchill (jazz band), Myrlan Coleman (visual arts), Laney (choir) and Nancy McVean (theatre). Endy was the chair of fine arts and communications at the time.
The WC Development Foundation, led by Executive Director Lin Bearden, brought multiple generous private gifts to the table, allowing the college to add several amenities, including the Texas Hall banquet area. But it was a $750,000 estate gift from Marjorie Black Alkek, a WC alumnus and ardent supporter of the arts, that prompted the college board to rename the facility in her honor in 1999.
In the past 20 years, the building has become more than a college instructional site and performance venue. It has become a gathering place for multiple community organizations and non-profit events, constantly used for a variety of purposes.
Its community-building aspect was never as apparent as it was following the infamous attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when the Alkek was used as a space for students, faculty and staff to gather and watch the events unfold.
“Mike was masterful in handling this horrendous tragedy with the faculty and the students,” said Coleman, WC’s art instructor since 1969. “Everyone felt that somehow we would emerge as a stronger nation and that everything would be okay.”
The Alkek was again used as a gathering spot following Hurricane Katrina as the college worked to raise money for relief efforts. “I remember the fine arts center as a place where people shared their wisdom, compassion, appreciation, respect and love for others,” Endy said. “That’s the Alkek Center to me.”
For more details and ticket information for the Alkek 20th celebration, go to www.wc.edu/Alkek20.
"The Hilltop," Winter 2018
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