SJR Column: Sangamon Auditorium, October 2014

I’ll never forget my first live theatre performance. My father, who was an opera fan, took me and my brothers to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago to see the operetta, Pinocchio. It was splendid … and, at the tender age of six, I was hooked! Since then, thanks to many opportunities throughout my student years, my appreciation for live performance has grown to include music of all kinds, theatre, dance, and even puppetry. There is something special about a live performance that challenges and engages the audience in a way that nothing else can.

That’s part of the reason that I am so grateful for the extraordinary vision of university and community leaders here in Springfield who, in the late 1970’s, insisted that an essential element of the new Public Affairs Building on the then-SSU campus would be a major performing arts center.

Sangamon Auditorium, an extraordinary facility by any measure, opened its doors to a capacity crowd on February 21, 1981 with Hal Holbrook’s one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight. Since then, the Auditorium (and its more intimate Studio Theatre venue) has presented more that 2,000 events to over 2 million campus visitors. The Auditorium is also home to two of Springfield’s greatest cultural assets – the Illinois Symphony Orchestra and the Springfield Ballet Company, as well as the Class Acts youth performing arts series which has introduced thousands of school children to the excitement of live artistic performance. Many independent productions and educational institutions in the region also use the Auditorium for graduations, meetings and seminars. We even host the inauguration ceremony for the Illinois House of Representatives!

So what does it require to successfully operate a complex facility like Sangamon Auditorium? The answer is institutional commitment, an exceptional staff, and extraordinary friends.

As a public liberal arts university, UIS is deeply committed to the role that the arts play in a university education and Sangamon Auditorium is an essential element of the UIS student experience.

We’re also deeply committed to engagement with our community and the Auditorium is an important part of our civic leadership – an outreach endeavor that serves thousands of residents of Springfield and Central Illinois each year.

The Auditorium staff includes talented professionals, student-workers and over 200 volunteers and is led with exceptional skill by Director, Bob Vaughn. A Griffin High School grad and an alum with a Masters degree in Community Arts Management, Bob has had greasepaint running through his veins since, at age eight, his aunt and uncle from California sent him a transistor radio in hopes of expanding his musical repertoire. We hired him away from the Leid Center at the University of Nebraska in 2006; since then, his unique blend of expertise and creativity has made Sangamon Auditorium one of the top performing arts centers in the Midwest.

Bob has spent nearly forty years cultivating mutually beneficial relationships with a global network of performers, booking agents and fellow directors. Add to that his deep knowledge of the local community and the result each year is a performing arts season that provides an extraordinary balance of virtuosity, technical quality, intellectual stimulation, educational opportunities, and pure enjoyment.

“Our goal each year,” says Bob, “is to inspire audiences to broaden their horizons and to provide transformative experiences for both audiences and artists.”

The final critical element in the success of the Auditorium is extraordinary friends and I’m thankful that we have many. Marsha Narmont, Senior Vice President for Marketing at United Community Bank in Springfield, is one of them. Marsha was introduced to the performing arts as a child in St. Louis, where her father managed the Kiel Auditorium – famous in those years not only for its opera, but also as one of North America’s most well-known professional wrestling venues. “UCB supports Sangamon Auditorium,” she says, “because my husband and I both love it and because it provides such important learning opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds in the community.”

The 2014-2015 season is now well underway and there are dozens of exceptional performances and hundreds of exciting artists soon to be on stage. This year, with our new mobile app, it’s easier and faster than ever to explore upcoming shows and purchase tickets. You can download it for free from the website at www.SangamonAuditorium.org. I hope to see you at an upcoming performance!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch