The Eccles Center  marks 15 years with 15 high-caliber performances and “thinky” experiences.

By Jane Gendron

Ski town culture has entered expert terrain. Not inaccessible terrain, but an entertaining landscape dotted withGrammy winners, MacArthur “Geniuses,” internationally-renowned troupes, rising stars and thought-provoking innovators.

Since Bill Cosby headlined The Eccles Center’s opening show in 1998, the stage has become the stomping grounds of high caliber musicians, dancers, actors, family entertainers, comedians and big idea- proffering thinkers. The non-profit Park City Performing Arts Foundation continues that culturally ambitious tradition with a 2012- 2013 Eccles Center season that traverses the artistic spectrum with 15 acts—ranging from folk-rock sextet Delta Rae to the dance-live music-acrobatics-visual effects spectacle, Quixotic Fusion.

“This is big city, large venue, heavily populated metropolitan area kind of performance,” says PCPAF executive director Teri Orr. “Bringing this level of sophistication to Park City seems to be the standard that Park City has set for itself—whether it’s the Olympics or Sundance or the performing arts. The challenge is that we don’t have the funding of a major city.”

PCPAF has overcome one funding challenge thanks to an anonymous donor with a penchant for dance. Thus, the season includes more dance-related programming than ever before: the groundbreaking Ailey II; the “beautifully trained and ruggedly athletic” DanceBrazil; the mind-bending Quixotic Fusion; and the world-renowned Parsons Dance Company.

The music side of the season spans roots to rock. Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth takes the stage New Year’s Eve. Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek fame returns as a solo artist with fellow rootsy songbird Ruth Moody. Contemporary string quartet Ethel teams up with 1970s icon Todd Rundgren. Bowfire’s lads and lasses put on a high octane romp of flying bows and step dancing. And Delta Rae, “one of the hottest acts going right now,” according to Orr, adds folk-rock stardom to the mix.

While dance and music often cross generations, PCPAF focuses on family- specific programming for each season, says Orr. And so, the curtain rises for Cirque Mechanics’ “Birdhouse Factory” and Marvel Super Heroes (Spider-man and the gang). Returning to Park City with a new show, “The Intergalactic Nemesis” combines radio drama and comic book-style drawings projected onto a giant screen. Finally, Grammy-nominated Vox Lumiere’s “Peter Pan” combines silent film, live music and dance. Though the classic film appeals to youngsters, Orr promises a hi-decibel, edgy show that also speaks to grown-ups.

On the theatrical front, PCPAF has two returning standouts: MacArthur “genius” Anna Deavere Smith and EMMY-winning comedienne Paula Poundstone. These two women fill niches that are often elusive, from a presenter’s perspective. According to Orr, Smith has the rare ability to singlehandedly “command the stage and engage a large audience.” Like Cosby, the witty Poundstone manages to find life funny, says Orr, “She’s a thinky person’s comedian.”

“Thinky” has become a buzzword at PCPAF. Along with main stage acts and student outreach programs, the organization continues to present “salon”-like Curiosities Evenings featuring speakers (such as Dr. David Gallo of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), cuisine and wine. TEDx events, which combine a live-streamed, international conference and local speakers and performers, also return to The Eccles.

Taking “thinky” to the streets, PCPAF opened the Mega Genius Supply Store and IQ HQ on Swede Alley. Now in its third year, Mega Genius provides free, after-school, one-on- one, literacy tutoring. The center also has a zany, brainy retail component and is inspired by author Dave Eggers 826 Valencia. Aside from literacy fundamentals, Orr says the center’s unintended side effect has been to build critical thinking skills and confidence.

“There is no better feeling for a kid than to have someone who is not a parent, who is not a teacher—an adult who is genuinely interested in you,” she says.

Shared moments—small and spectacular— are at PCPAF’s core. The Eccles Center began as “a wild experiment,” an ambitious undertaking for a small ski resort community, says Orr. And while navigating cultural terrain is not without challenges, the experiment continues to grow—one edgy, fun, sensory-overloading, poignant live show (or quiet tutoring experience) at a time.

Previous articleJW Allen’s Toy Invention
Next articleJulie Nester Gallery Art Perspective