At a projected budget of $475 million, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts is the biggest investment in the arts Las Vegas has ever seen. It aims to provide a focal point and infrastructure for fine arts for the Valley. But the Smith Center lost something on the way to its final design: a 650-seat theater designed to host the Nevada Ballet Theatre and a resident dramatic theater company.
The NBT moved to the larger hall, which it will share with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and thus a decision was made to shelve plans for the 650-seat theater. This has rubbed many in the local theater community the wrong way.
“In this town, the symphony and ballet are the only two things that are looked at as arts organizations,” says Walter Niejadlik, Las Vegas Little Theatre’s president and artistic director. “All the small theaters are kind of pooh-poohed as being amateur community theater and not somehow part of the arts in town.”
The Nevada Conservatory Theatre was approached during the Smith Center’s planning stages, but chose to remain affiliated with UNLV. Even so, Jeff Koep, dean of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts, has expressed a certain dismay at the lack of a 650-seat theater.
“The arts grow together,” Koep says. While acknowledging that finances might have prohibited the Smith Center from building a theater without a resident tenant, Koep explains that without such a room, efforts to build a regional theater—apart from NCT, which has space on campus—will likely be made trickier. “It’s going to be pretty tough to do given the venues available,” he says. “The Smith Center won’t have a venue that would be appropriate and allow you to put on a season.”
Myron Martin, president of the group behind the Smith Center (Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation), echoes Koep’s sentiment that the arts must grow together, but disputes the notion that there won’t be an appropriate venue in which to stage a season. He adds that, during his group’s research phase, none of the companies his team spoke with expressed much interest in a 650-seat venue.
“More of the companies that we talked to felt like they might have the need for a black-box theater in the foreseeable future than 650 seats and all that goes with it,” Martin says.
Martin also insists he’s open to the idea of a theater organization becoming a resident in the black-box space, or even a larger hall in the future.
“If somebody came to me in five years and said, ‘We think we have a plan to build a regional-sized theater,’ I’d want to be at the front of the pack to help them find a home,” he says.
Still, Martin concedes that, beyond the Performing Arts Center Foundation’s initial information-gathering process, his group hasn’t communicated well with the arts community regarding its decisions. To that end, he plans to schedule a series of town hall-style meetings in an effort to create a dialogue between area troupes and the Smith Center, which Martin avows will ultimately be a boon for local theater.
“Performing-arts centers are proven catalysts for the arts,” Martin says. “Whether they perform at the Smith Center or not, theater companies throughout the valley are going to benefit from the Smith Center being built.”