Broadway in the Backyard


by: James Rockefeller Gray

Broadway in the backyard… That’s how it felt when I finally gave into my mother’s requests to see a production at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC).  DPAC has been wowing the Durham audiences for the past few years with its lavish productions, comfortable seating, and superb hospitality. There is no wonder why that nearly every production is sold out.

My mother can thank the Clarion Content for our media access and credentials.  But the Clarion Content can thank my mother for the fact that we ever went. She wouldn’t let up.

“James, remember to see about the DPAC, I heard ‘Jersey Boys’ is coming, and I really want to see it.”

At first she would ask nicely and then it turned into, “Did you check with the DPAC yet about getting those tickets?” And, she would say it in a serious tone.

Naturally, I sent an immediate email to Sami Biardi (the DPAC’s Head of Broadway Marketing) after Mom asked once in that tone.  She was not kidding about her DPAC tickets.

James Rockefeller Gray and Lovella Leake Gray

James Rockefeller Gray and Lovella Leake Gray

My mother grew up in New York City in the 70’s; a time before Rudy Giuliani had swept the city clean, when crime and art were growing adjacent, providing the big city with its most memorable decade. She went to La Guardia School of Performing Arts. My father’s high school ambition was to become an actor. He grew up in New York City as well. I was raised in a fairly artsy household; in my pre-teens and teenage years I was in countless productions with the Young People’s Performing Company (YPPC) located in the basement of the Durham Arts Council. I also was a key player in the Hillside High School Drama Productions, and later graduated high school from the acting conservatory at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Performance is in my blood, so I could understand why my mother was getting frustrated that I didn’t immediately check into getting credentials with DPAC.

The truth of the matter is that I felt like many Durham residents appear to feel about the Durham Performing Arts Center. Those thoughts: tickets probably aren’t affordable for the average Durham resident, the productions are probably low budget versions of their Manhattan/Broadway counterparts, and my fear of “dressing up” for the theater.

Now that I’ve attended three productions, “Jersey Boys” “Pippin” and “Newsies,”  I can say that I honestly feel ashamed that I hadn’t experienced sooner the Broadway-like productions being performed right in my backyard (downtown Durham).

The variety of genres of production is a testament to the confidence and versatility of the DPAC management. This is the real thing! Durham is an artsy city, rich in culture and diversity, so one would think that the Performing Arts Center of such a place would no doubt be a reflection of the artistic realm that surrounds it. Bull City audiences were not as pretentious and snobby as many locals might assume. Instead they were normal people, a lot of people from my Mother’s generation, the Baby Boomers, young people on dates, and a sprinkling of families with children. The DPAC seats are comfortable, the aisles are clean, and it wouldn’t be the theatre without the chill of the AC blowing down from the ceiling. Mom and I made sure we brought our jackets.  I didn’t “dress up,” instead I wore my sneakers, jeans, and a hoodie. To my surprise there were a lot of people dressed the same way. The concessions are one of the best attractions of DPAC, they serve these candy coated peanuts that are phenomenal. They also have a very solid beer and wine selection, as well as Starbucks Coffee, for those of us who need it to be awake after a long day at work, so that we can see the second act.

I saw other adults with their parents, and it made me feel extra great to be there with my mother. In fact, I ran into MissBliss Floccaremodel and Durham’s resident Burlesque Queen at “Jersey Boys.” She was there with her mom, too!

The upcoming season at DPAC is set to be one of the best that Durham has seen yet. “The Lion King” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cabaret” are just a few of the top Broadway plays that will be hitting the stage for the 2015-2016 season. So watch out for exclusive interviews and a special Broadway at DPAC yearbook I will be creating at the end of the season. A special and warm “Thank you!” to Sami Biardi for being supportive and for the incredible work she has done this year. The new season is right around the corner, and my mother and I will be in attendance with our credentials. Thanks Mom for having the wisdom and persistence to pursue the DPAC story.  There are some really great affordable season ticket passes, so go check it out.

Stop making excuses, Durham, because DPAC is here to stay!

Clarion Content

Clarion Content is a Durham-based online magazine that curates and creates the thriving culture that gives our city its identity. Our community building is only as strong as our collective contributions. Our team of curators welcomes your comments, suggestions, and concerns. We are open to all points of view, especially those that challenge and therefore stimulate our own. We also encourage reader submitted material as well as guest columnists. See something cool, outrageous, outlandish, or important? Have a great cause? Send us a note or stop by our offices at the Mothership, 401 West Geer Street inside the MotorCo complex.

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