By EMILY RAMSEY
BREAK A LEG: BAPAC Executive Director Mark Frie stands in the balcony of the arts center, which brings more than 60,000 people each year to Broken Arrow’s Rose District. Besides bringing a-list performers, the facility also provides educational opportunities to local students.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
The Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center (BAPAC) opened in 2009 to serve as an anchor for downtown Broken Arrow’s burgeoning Rose District. According to Executive Director Mark Frie, it has done not only that but so much more.
“The way I know we’re running on all cylinders is when the community thinks that bringing in eight shows with Broadway and award-winning performers is normal,” he says. “No one is shocked anymore; it’s almost expected.”
That absence of shock was precisely Frie’s long-term intention when he signed on as executive director before the opening of the facility. “I had a five-year plan, and I feel like we have exceeded that on all levels,” he says.
The BAPAC has brought in well-known musicians, performers and shows of all genres in its four seasons, including Amy Grant, Shrek and Kristin Chenoweth. The upcoming season is no exception.
Running September to March, the 2013-14 season will welcome Sandi Patty; Bruce Hornsby and Ricky Skaggs; Sinbad—the BAPAC’s first comedy act, with a capella group Take 6; Beatles Rain; David Phelps; the Ten Tenors; Bring it On; and Memphis.
Frie estimates that its 12 shows and nearly 200 school-related events bring more than 60,000 people through the art center’s doors each season.
The added traffic to downtown Broken Arrow was just one of the hoped-for results of the facility. Being a school-owned building, another goal was to provide educational opportunities for students.
Broken Arrow students have worked with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, learned about life on the road from the performers in Shrek and tap danced with performing troupe Tap Dogs.
“The artists are happy to help educate students,” Frie says. “They aren’t asked to do that very often, and they realize it’s a vital step in keeping the performance arts alive.”
In 2010, Illusionist Kevin Spencer spent one week visiting students with autism. “To see those kids’ eyes light up when they got a trick, you could just stop everything right there; it was amazing,” says Frie.
Frie, a performer and singer who made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2006, understands the importance of allowing students exposure to the arts world. Largely due to Frie’s performing connections, 200 Broken Arrow students will travel to New York City and perform at Carnegie Hall in April of next year.
Frie’s understanding of the arts world has also given him an edge in caring for artists when they come to the facility.
“As a performer, I’ve been treated well and poorly in venues,” he says. “We want to take care of artists and be known as the friendliest venue. That kind of thing gets around. The performing arts world is small.”
Frie and his staff endeavor to make artists’ experience at the facility comfortable and memorable: leaving fresh flowers and chocolates in dressing rooms and gaining a reputation as one of the fastest crews to load and unload equipment.
The community also plays a role in a performer’s impression of the city.
“I heard from the Shrek performers that they were blown away by the audience and how they were received,” Frie says. “That sort of thing gives us a reputation across the country.”
And there remains no doubt that word is spreading.
It used to be that when Frie invited an artist to perform at the BAPAC, “I used to have to explain who we are and where Broken Arrow is,” he says. “Now, I go to events and people know us. I don’t have to explain that anymore. And I don’t have to call artists anymore. They call us.”