The Beach Boys. Ellen DeGeneres. Weird Al Yankovic.
These are just a few of the autographs in the backstage of Harman Hall at Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center (PAC). A long white wall stretches across the length of the building, scratched and scribbled with signatures, words of thanks and recognition of memorable performances by traveling Broadway shows, world-renowned musicians and local performers. Part historical record and part exhibit, the wall houses signatures from 20 years of prominent performances.
PAC Managing Director Chris Miller has worked at several performing arts centers around the country and said a signature wall holds powerful memories of the artists that have taken that stage.
“I think it carries on a tradition in the performing arts that I think it’s important for us to be a part of,” Miller said. “It’s common in many theaters to have this feature backstage where the performers have left their mark in the building long after they were actually there on stage performing.”
Since the PAC opened in 1996, the signature wall has been filled with the marks of famous artists. Signatures fill cracks and crevices, so much so that plywood has been placed over certain areas to make room for current and future performers to sign, according to Miller.
“I think artists become artists because they want to make a mark on the world and they want to touch people,” Miller said. “Signing the wall presents a sort of record of permanence that they were here. That they came to this community and had an impact here.”
Classic Broadway shows like “The Sound of Music” and famous performance groups like “Stomp the Yard” have performed at the PAC, but the performance space is also home to many local dance, opera, symphony and choirs. Groups include San Luis Obispo Symphony, San Luis Obispo Civic Ballet, Opera San Luis Obispo and SLO Academy of Dance.
Because the PAC receives funding from the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, the performance space uses a specific rental structure that subsidizes and encourages these local groups to perform at the PAC. The Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, along with its partners Cal Poly and the City of San Luis Obispo, is responsible for community funding to support the performing arts and provides more than half of the PAC’s budget, according to the Foundation for Performing Arts Website.
“The PAC’s mission is to be the home for the local resident art associations,” Miller said. “Part of that is the place where many young people get their first experience performing in a professional performing environment.”
This was the case for local dancer Courtney Meznarich. Since dancing at the PAC when she was in middle school, and again as an adult, Meznarich said the PAC is a special place to preform.
“It’s a state-of-the-art facility, it’s big-time,” Meznarich said. “It comes with the lights, the sets, the backstage performers. To see the wall in the back and to see who else has performed there on that same stage … and just know you are amidst something that they got to be a part of … it’s really cool.”
Virtual reality tour:
Each signature represents a story, a memory and an experience. Navigate through the virtual reality tour to see local companies share their favorite performance and why they value their time in the PAC. Click on each dot to hear from some of the artists who have left their mark on this wall.
Steve Lerian, director of Cal Poly Arts, reminisces on a performance that every architecture and engineering student should have seen.
Courtney Meznarich, local dancer, who performed at the PAC as a child and as an adult, has a unique experience of the performing space.
Opera San Luis Obispo’s artistic director, Brian Asher Alhadeff, shares his favorite performance, Showboat, and what makes an Opera show special at the PAC.
Catherine Lansdowne, executive director of SLO Symphony, shares her favorite performance under new conductor, Andrew Sewell.
Drew Silvaggio, owner and director of Academy of Dance, values the performing space for his students.