Performing Arts Center

Working to stay connected with Fox Cities

by Tim Froberg

The stage lights at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center won’t shine for several months yet.

However, plenty is happening behind the closed curtain to bring live theatrical productions back to Appleton.

The P.A.C. announced recently that due to the coronavirus pandemic, live productions, events, and workshops would be delayed until spring.

Until then, the Center’s staff has been working diligently to facilitate the return of fabulous touring shows likes “Cats” and “Tootsie.”

“At this point, we’re trying to find out when the shows can begin traveling and touring again,” said Tricia Witt, marketing director for the P.A.C. “It’s a big, giant, frustrating puzzle to try and put together.”

The Center’s building remains closed and staff members have been working remotely to stay connected to the community.

“We’re trying to provide virtual opportunities to engage with the community and allow people to give their brains and hearts a break by hopefully experiencing an uplifting or light moment,” said P.A.C. president Maria Van Laanen. “We’re all living this pandemic together and it’s important to have those light moments where we’re not just hearing about bad news of the virus.”

Originally, the P.A.C. was scheduled to host a series of highly popular shows in January and February, including Disney’s blockbuster “Frozen.” Broadway hits “Cats” and “Hairspray” were scheduled for April and May, among several others.

The hope is that touring shows will hit the road by spring, but much needs to be done before live performances return. Health and safety protocols must be agreed upon and put in place both regionally and nationally. And then there’s the matter of rebooting the shows.

“None of these shows have been in production,” said Van Laanen. “You have artists and creative teams and backstage people spread all over the country. To restart, they need to safely call people back to the rehearsal room and essentially rebuild that cast. It takes quite a bit of time to get restarted.”

Van Laanen and her staff are using the downtime wisely. The P.A.C. has ramped up its online efforts, offering virtual shows and educational opportunities for those interested in theater.

Van Laanen hosts an online show called “The Show Must Go On” at 7:30 p.m. every Monday on its Facebook page. Guests range from local professionals to Black Violin, a Florida-based hip-hop-classical duo featuring classically trained string instrumentalists Kevin Marcus and Wilner Baptiste.

“It’s really important for our community to have a chance to be reminded how these arts groups are using their crafts to impact and build communities,” said Van Laanen.

The P.A.C. has provided virtual concerts and town hall-type meetings to donors and has worked online with students who are part of its Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program. It also continues to offer online educational initiatives such as the Boldt Company Beyond the Stage program, which explores themes and ideas learned on stage, and the Amcor Educational Series geared toward theater teachers and instructors. A virtual teacher’s lounge program is also available that assists instructors with lesson planning.

To check out the Center’s education opportunities, go to and click on the education link.

“We’re still delivering educational opportunities that align with the curriculum requirements of all our schools virtually,” Van Laanen said. “In addition, we have this social opportunity for our educators. They’re working so hard to learn the new rules and provide this online virtual content. So we’re providing an opportunity to just connect socially, to maybe share some humor as well as some best practices.”