It’s a cardinal rule of performance: the show must go on, and to meet that demand over the past three decades Stuart Crowell ’86 has cajoled his wife, kids, dog, and car into Silver Center productions. Crowell directs Plymouth State’s performing arts and entertainment showcase and his commitment to doing whatever it takes has long been instrumental to its success.
“Silver Hall,” named in honor of Plymouth Teachers College President Ernest Silver, boasted one of the region’s largest auditoriums when it opened in the 1950s. A major remodeling in the 1990s greatly enhanced its capabilities and the venue was renamed the Silver Cultural Arts Center. The Silver Center for the Arts continues as one of the state’s premier facilities.
Crowell earned his Plymouth State degree in the midst of a 10-year period in which he was also working for Boston production companies, and his fellow professional staff members include alumni with similar real-world experience. Their field-proven skills combine with first-hand knowledge of PSU performing arts and their transformative powers.
The Silver Center’s operational model is unique in terms of its handling of performances and its integration of students into the workflow. “Most schools have separate teams that do college productions separate from the road and touring shows in a presenting series, but we have one crew that does it all,” says Crowell. “It’s more work but more efficient. University programs get first dibs on our calendar rather than outside acts, and that’s unusual. We bring in local folks with expertise when needed, but our core crew has just five professional staff members, together with 40 student workers.”
Students work up to 20 hours per week, side by side with staff, and much learning takes place on the job. “We have a lot of contact with students, and they are essential to the entire operation,” says Crowell. “In their first year they’ll have a hundred questions, like, should I use this hammer or that hammer? Three years later, they are running a crew with five other students.”
Crowell knows that learning technical skills is crucial if students hope to make their living in the arts. Most theatre students initially tend to see themselves as actors rather than tech workers, but there are many more tech careers to be had.
Plymouth State’s music, theatre, and dance programs are three separate clients, and within each there are further subdivisions, for example, the music program’s Jazz Band. All have particular needs and goals but follow a common academic calendar, which can result in as many as nine concerts to be managed in a single week.
In addition to in-house and guest performances, the center hosts productions and exhibitions by PSU’s Educational Theatre Collaborative and the Museum of the White Mountains, plus all manner of events serving the broader University community. The Silver Center team prepares for prospective students at Admissions open houses, for new students taking their first steps into the campus community at Orientation programs, and for athletic awards and a raft of other ceremonies leading up to students’ final year Convocation.
Community service is yet another priority. Plymouth Regional High School concerts and award programs take place on Silver stages, and high school students from across the state and region are welcomed through band, choral, dance, jazz, and theatre festivals. Opportunities for homeschoolers and younger artists include the Carnegie Link-Up programs for third through fifth graders.
Add to that the Eagle Pond Authors’ Series, Sidore lectures, the New Hampshire Music Festival’s summer residency, and top-flight touring artists such as Windham Hill, and you have a full, diverse, and exciting schedule of events.
The pandemic is forcing cultural venues worldwide to adapt, and Crowell accepts that some patrons may choose to stay away until a vaccine is developed. “We are always refining our processes, so that’s not new, and are working on ways to bring shows to remote viewers,” he says. Regardless, he still prioritizes providing PSU students with quality learning experiences. “In education it is about the process anyway, and the product is secondary,” he says.
The “product” can be measured in many ways, all of which point to an impressive operation. An extensive review of the center’s last full season illuminated its impact, with performances for all ages drawing more than 34,000 patrons. More than a few new residents say the Silver Center is what drew them to the area.
Notwithstanding his many managerial responsibilities Crowell remains grounded in the day-to-day, and can be found shoveling a snowy sidewalk just as naturally as welcoming a full house from a spotlighted stage. After more than 30 years, he knows that what happens inside the Silver Center is more than merely academic. “It’s all about that magic that happens backstage, with our students, audiences, actors, and crews,” he says. “It’s a palpable, wonderful feeling, and you can see it in the students and in their focus. That’s what it’s all about.”