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New performance hall at SJCC offers both art, opportunity

Standing in the middle of the Stroum Jewish Community Center’s new performance hall, CEO Judy Neuman, can’t help but get excited about the revived space: natural light, state-of-the-art acoustics and 350 seats that can pull into the wall with the push of a button.

“Previously this was the same footprint, very dark and dingy, no natural light in this space at all,” says Neuman, gesticulating to the various new features. “One of the goals was really to break this open.”

In February, SJCC, long a fixture on the Island, hosted a grand opening for its new performance hall. The $5 million construction project got underway last fall and on Feb. 8 opened its doors to the public after just six months of construction for an evening full of performances. Roughly 320 people were expected to have turned out on opening night.

“The auditorium [was first built] in the sixties and had some wear and tear,” said communications manager Sarah Tobis, who can remember participating in plays there as a girl. “It needed a major overhaul and to expand to meet the community’s needs and [that of] the cultural arts program.”

The new facility features nine skylights, blackout shades for films during the day and hearing loop system for senior citizens and the hearing impaired. An adjacent foyer can double as a multi-purpose space, featuring play structures for kids during the day and then transforming into a reception space for events. The room it opens to will serve as JCC’s library and a magnetic wall can hold rotating artwork, posters and other exhibits.

Neuman says she expects the space to be used for any number of purposes: wedding receptions, Bar Mitvahs, third party performances and the like.

The project is part of a broader revitalization of the JCC, an attempt to bring the beloved community center into the 21st century. Future projects are in the pipeline though Neuman would say only that they would be vetted by the board in a similar fashion and conducted in phases because they will require moving walls and retrofitting.

“It used to be that you would plug a mic in and you’d hope it would work,” remembers Neuman. “We would never have been able to bring in the type of talent we’re bringing in, as well as the film festival in our old auditorium. Now the sky is the limit.”

Talks have recently launched about an anchor venue for performing arts on the Island, the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA). Youth Theatre Northwest would be the primary tenant but early conversations have also hinted at off-Island productions by ACT Theatre and Teatro ZinZanni. Neuman says she hopes if plans progress, they take into account spaces like hers. She’s only had one preliminary discussion with the MICA team and says that because JCC doesn’t run or strive for a formal theater program, it’s hard to determine if there’s demand for two stages.

“My hope would be that whatever is built is a compliment to what is already here and not a duplication…It would be silly to build a movie theatre the way we have and to have another on the island,” notes Neuman. “We should be able to share and combine resources to bring the arts to this community.”

For more information about upcoming events at JCC, visit: http://sjcc.org/cultural-arts/arts-events/.

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the performance hall opened on Feb. 7.

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