The Aquinas College Performing Arts Center (PAC) is one of several places at Aquinas College that can give visitors a glimpse into how the arts thrive on campus. Located on Robinson Road, every part of the PAC, from the stage to the lush green lawn, offers opportunities for innovative theatrical and musical performances. For many, it’s like a second home.
For the last 20 years, the Aquinas PAC has been home to not only productions by the Aquinas Theatre Department, but also Circle Theatre and the Catholic Secondary schools. In a collaboration unlike any in the country, these theatre organizations share space, support one another, and remind audiences of just how impactful theatre can be.
“It has a much higher rate of use than most other spaces I know of in town,” said Scott Harman, Director of Theatre Production at Aquinas College. “There’s constantly something going on.”
When Aquinas Theatre’s programs wind down for the summer break, Circle Theatre’s season begins ramping up, with musicals and plays from the high schools scheduled throughout the year. Lynne-Browne Tepper, the Executive & Artistic Director at Circle Theatre, has worked in the PAC since its opening in 2003 and finds new reasons to love the organization’s home on Aquinas’ campus every summer season.
“It's not unusual for me to walk up any night that we have a concert or show and see people on the lawn having picnics,” said Brown-Tepper. “It’s one of the things that make us unique—we're on this beautiful campus.”
Another feature of the space that everyone loves is the thrust stage, surrounded on three sides by 410 seats that are sharply inclined to keep even the back rows close to the performance. There is not a bad seat in the house when the performers are enveloped by the audience.
“With other stages, you have a movie theatre view,” said Kelsey Edwards, Technical Director for both Aquinas College and Circle Theatre. “With this stage, you get a very intimate feeling. You’re immersed into the show rather than watching it like a movie.
The collaboration between Aquinas College, Circle Theatre, and the secondary schools goes much deeper than just sharing a location. Some Aquinas students go on to do internships or act in shows with Circle Theatre. Some Aquinas students attended the Catholic secondary schools that perform at the PAC. And some have been a part of shows for all three groups.
“In one of the back hallways where a lot of props are stored, they'll paint a little block on the wall for that show,” said Scott Harman, Director of Theatre Production at Aquinas College. “There’s a lot of old names there that have moved from one place to the next.”
Brown-Tepper is grateful for the talented and dedicated students Aquinas is able to send her way as interns, actors, and more.
“They’re so prepared,” said Brown-Tepper. “I just feel like the students coming out of Aquinas have an understanding not just as a performer on stage but also backstage and about all the technical elements. Their students really hit the ground running right off the bat.”
For Harman, the experience students receive as Aquinas students is essential, but he wants students to leave with a deep appreciation of the role theatre plays in a community.
“Hopefully all of our students are thinking about the arts, not just as entertainment, but as a kind of civic ritual,” said Harman. “Theatre is a place where people come together to hear stories about what's important to them. I love building on that idea of the Performing Arts Center as more of a cultural commons.”
Aquinas College still has several shows this season. Student-directed one-act plays will run at 7:30 p.m. on December 7-9, with 2:30 p.m. performances on December 10. In February, AQ Theatre will perform Lizzie, a rock musical about the 19th-century woman accused of murdering her mother and father, and in April, the play The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, a storybook come to life about a lost porcelain rabbit.
Circle Theatre’s summer season will kick off with a concert in April before Tick, Tick… Boom! byJonathan Larsen the creator of Rent! begins its run in May. Tick, Tick… Boom! is an autobiographical musical recently made into a Netflix movie starring Andrew Garfield. Other shows will include A Raisin in the Sun, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and Urinetown, the Musical!
As Professor Scott Harman said, there’s always something happening at the Aquinas Performing Arts Center. You can see what shows are coming up by checking the PAC webpage, which has links to both Aquinas Theatre and Circle Theatre’s ticket sales.