PAC documentary, Playing in Unison. Abigail O'Branovich | Mustang News

On April 23, the Foundation of the Performing Arts Center hosted a red carpet premiere for the Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) new documentary, “Playing in Unison.”  The night included a few surprises for the guests in attendance, including a new fundraising campaign and an “enchanted oasis” for students and staff to enjoy.

There were many people in attendance, including staff from the Foundation, PAC and members of the Cal Poly community.

Marijane “MJ” Miller, the film’s director, said that the best part about making the documentary was meeting everyone involved along the way. 

“I came into this kind of like, ‘Oh, this will be cute,’ and every single person I met was passionate, like ‘No, this is important to the community. We need this,’” Miller said. “When you meet people who are passionate about something, it makes you more excited to complete the project and tell their story as best you can because you want to honor that dedication.”

Credited as storytellers, the film’s 20 contributors consisted of many people from San Luis Obisbo, including the foundation’s managing director, Chris Miller, former San Luis Obispo City Manager John Dunn, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong and former director of Cal Poly Arts Steve Lerian.

The documentary is about the development of the PAC and the various obstacles their community had to overcome to be able to withstand time. It tells of the partnership of three contributors — a university, city hall and dedicated foundation — that worked persistently for years collecting funds.

Miller said that this documentary initially started off as a 10-minute “look back at the PAC.” 

Joey Leslie, a member of the foundation’s board, said he reached out to Miller, whom he had known for more than 20 years. Leslie hired Miller to create a short film as a reflection of how far the Performing Arts Center has come as a way to celebrate its 25th anniversary. They, along with Leann Standish, the former head of the foundation, decided they could make it about a half-hour long and truly dedicate it to the commitment the PAC has made over nearly three decades.

Then, the pandemic shut down the PAC.

“It changed the whole story and made it much more complex,” Miller said. “I called Leann, and said, ‘This is going to be longer.’ I said, ‘Now it’s an hour, it’s going to cost more money.’ They never flinched. We’re making this movie.” 

Lerian, the former director of Cal Poly Arts, said there were “so many diverse pieces to how this story got built.” He said that the storytellers were able to represent the performances themselves. 

“[Cal Poly Arts] brings in world class artists to perform here,” Lerian said. “Without my participation, I guess that part of it might have gotten forgotten, because, really, 60% of the people who come here come to see shows Cal Poly Arts presents, and that’s what’s kept the PAC afloat and relevant within the whole community and region. I’m glad I was able to represent that as part of a film.”

Beth Cordova, a Cal Poly Emeritus, said the film helped highlight the PAC’s “complicated history.” 

“It wasn’t an easy task to achieve,” Cordova said. “For many of us, we did not know the history of it, and so this film puts that all in perspective.”

Cordova and her husband both attended the ‘Hard Hat Ball,’ the PAC’s first big opening party, back in 1996. 

“We have been members, subscribers, since day one,” Cordova said. “We went to the hardhat ball, but to see the history of how this building became reality, that was just magical.”

In their initial release, the foundation ‘teased’ attendees with a surprise pledge of $1 million to the foundation for the Performing Arts Center by Trudy and Ty Safreno.

This pledge will go toward a “new gathering spot in front of the venue, including tables, chairs, trees and colorful lighting so that the space can be used day or night,” as reported by the Tribune. Ty Safreno estimated the project would take a year and a half to two years to complete.

This new ‘enchanted oasis’ concept is designed by Ray Spencer, a close friend of the Safreno’s. He has worked at Walt Disney Imagineering for more than 20 years, holding the title of Executive Creative Director. Spencer is also responsible for several of the Disney parks, hotels, shops and restaurants, according to the Tribune. 

Additionally, the Foundation released the “Find Your Center” fundraising campaign. The Safreno’s pledge is the leading donation to spearhead this campaign. It is set to run over the next five years, concluding in 2026 for the PAC’s 30th anniversary.