While closed for the pandemic, the staff at Eugene’s Hult Center for the Performing Arts saw an opportunity for reinvention, long-time general manager Theresa Sizemore says.
Opened in 1982 in downtown Eugene, the Hult is a roughly 3,000-capacity performing arts center with two stages: the smaller Soreng Theater, which seats about 500, and the much larger Silva Concert Hall, with room for nearly 2,500.
The city-owned performing arts center is home to the Eugene Symphony and Eugene Ballet, among other resident arts companies, and in late September it will celebrate four decades in operation.
As last year’s careful re-opening has continued into summer 2022, Grammy Award-winning country-rock singer-songwriter Jason Isbell and rock band Lord Huron have performed there. High-profile comedian Chelsea Handler and sci-fi author Neil Gaiman have also appeared.
Coming up are Tennessee singer-songwriter Valerie June, who performs Thursday, Aug. 4, and folk/alternative rock band the Crash Test Dummies on August 18. Also on the books this summer: a series of free, non-ticketed early evening concerts on Thursdays, featuring such artists as the jazzy folk rock of Snaps For Sinners, August 4; singer-songwriter Cuchulain, August 11; and Pamyua, an Inuit/African American duo from Anchorage, on August 18.
Those are just a few high points on a calendar that has sometimes skewed safe and staid in past seasons.
That refresh was intentional, Sizemore says. While its halls were shut down for the pandemic, the Hult’s purpose, mission and business plan were redefined, she says. There were also some facility upgrades. Community outreach was also revamped with a brand-new educational engagement program now poised to launch, Sizemore says.
Most notably though, event planners and managers rethought the sort of programming they wished to attract.
Those shows mentioned, and others, are examples of “artists that wouldn’t come to our market if we weren’t putting out offers,” Hult Center director of marketing Rich Hobby says.
Among other changes, Broadway in Eugene booking will be brought in-house in 2023. In past seasons, the Hult hosted the package of nationally touring Broadway shows, which is produced in collaboration with the American Theatre Guild (ATG). Next year, the Hult will book individual shows on its own. Much sooner than that, though, the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton from musical midas Lin-Manuel Miranda takes the Hult stage September 13 through 25.
Of the move to exert more control over Broadway-tour booking, Sizemore adds, “We looked at what we wanted to see come to Eugene via Broadway.” And though managing Broadway in Eugene includes both risk and reward, “Our record of success shows we could indeed do that,” she says.
As well as Broadway changes, another new initiative at the center is The Hult Presents: 10 X 10 Series, which last year offered up-and-coming musicians to Eugene audiences with a $10 ticket. The series returns in the fall.
Before that, though, the Hult Center 40th-birthday celebrations kick off with a ticketed VIP after-party when Portland big band Pink Martini comes to town August 26. The next day, there’s also a free anniversary party with giveaways and live screen printing. The event will also offer a free screening of a documentary produced covering the Hult’s first 40 years.
Vicki Infinito, director of programming and booking, says post-pandemic, the Hult seems to draw increasing interest from the live entertainment industry.
“As Eugene and the area grow, the industry is seeing that it’s becoming a stronger market than it was pre-pandemic. We actually sell a lot of tickets,” she says. That’s opened the Hult to a lot of shows that the center would not have had the chance to consider in seasons past, she says.
At the tail-end of the pandemic, Infinito says, “We’ve been really fortunate to have a community that decided to come back.”
For more information about upcoming events at the Hult Center, including folk and blues-influenced soul singer Valerie June on August 4, go to HultCenter.org.