Teaching students auditorium manners

SUSAN MATHENY - PAC Director Shannan Ahern keeps a protective eye on the facility inside and out to preserve the community's investment.A flurry of concerts and drama productions were on the docket for Madras Performing Arts Center Director Shannan Ahern her first week on the job, and she was ready.

“I’ve been involved in dance since I was a kid, and have over 20 years of experience in putting on productions,” she said.

At Crook County High School, Ahern was active in drama, dance and band productions. After graduating, she attended Oregon State University and studied communications. She and her husband, Tony Ahern, worked at the Central Oregonian newspaper, then moved to Madras in 1993 after he was hired as the publisher of the Madras Pioneer. Their family includes daughter Gillian, 8.

In Madras, she worked for High Desert Dance Arts, teaching classes in Prineville and Madras before purchasing the local dance studio with Kathleen Avila eight years ago and renaming it Dance Arts Unlimited.

Ahern is familiar with several area venues, because in the past, the dance recitals for their studio, which has grown to about 250 students, had to be held out of town where there was a large auditorium. And her experience as a customer is influencing her approach.

“I make a point of personally meeting whoever is using the facility, I never had that experience in other Central Oregon facilities. We always had to hunt down a janitor or someone for help,” she said adding, “I want to make this a really professional place where people want to come, and where they have a pleasant experience.”

Her duties as director include overseeing everything that happens at the PAC, and making sure the building and equipment are maintained.

Over the winter, when the state-of-the-art technical equipment was installed, Ahern and MHS drama club director Scott Waite were among a handful of people who attended a training by the installers.

“I can run the lighting and am comfortable being the stage manager, but sound is my weak link,” Ahern said.

She’s working on building a pool of technical support people from the school and community from which to draw, and also a pool of ushers. “I’d also like to work toward getting stage craft classes, either through the high school or Central Oregon Community College,” she said.

Her dance studio produced and directed the gala opening of the PAC, and Ahern said since that event, “People with (technical) experience have come out of the woodwork and offered to help.”

Marketing the facility to fill it with a balance of student and community programs will be the next focus. “Developing the fee schedule is the big thing now. I can’t market it until I get a fee schedule,” she said, mentioning she’s checking pricing with other Central Oregon schools and venues.

“I also have a background in marketing,” Ahern said, pointing out she worked as the ad manager of the Madras Pioneer, and has owned two businesses – Snap Shots, which she opened in 1997 and sold in 2001, and the dance studio.

Possibilities she’s looking at for the PAC include tying into a community concert series, and pulling in entertainment acts on their way to perform in Bend. She has ties with Opera Bend, and will be networking through the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Oregon to seek other opportunities.

Once school is out, she will be looking for groups with outreach programs like the Oregon Ballet and Portland Symphony. “A lot of groups have grants where they have to do community outreach,” she said.

She is also creating an inventory system for the building, to keep track of things like microphones and headsets. “Having run a business, I bring my sense of fiscal management, and want to make sure things are cared for and protected. We have a lot of really nice equipment here and want to keep it,” she said.

Ahern said the PAC is a wonderful facility for students, who are learning audience etiquette as well as getting the chance to perform there. For the first time, Madras Primary students in kindergarten through second grade were invited to the drama club’s recent dress rehearsal of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“It was a grand experiment, because we didn’t know if they could sit still, but you could have heard a pin drop; it was great,” she said, observing, “That experience gives them the bug to get on stage.”

“I’m so excited for this. I was involved in the bond campaign to fund the PAC, and on committees to design it. I’m very vested in this building and I want it to be used and beautiful for a long time,” Ahern said.

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