From national touring acts to local performers, this modest arts center delivers a surprising lineup to the Tri-Cities area, all from an attachment to the local high school.
Juli Bertness has been attending performances at Batavia Fine Arts Centre (BFAC), 1201 Main St., since the theater opened in August 2011. She never wants to miss a show, which is why she purchases a season ticket package.
“The facility is beautiful,” Bertness says. “It’s more than just a building – more than just bricks and mortar. We have a shared community space where people from all walks of life can come together and celebrate the arts, and our common humanity, right here in our own backyard.”
BFAC may be located at Batavia High School, but it’s far more than a high school auditorium. Area students share their stage with a variety of regional performers and national touring groups, from Broadway acts and comedy sensations to live music and dance.
More than just a performing arts center, BFAC displays visual art in its lobby, much of it for sale. Professional artists and Batavia students alike have showcased their paintings, photographs and drawings on these walls.
“A lot of thought went into our name, because we needed something that encompasses all the art we represent,” says Dominic Cattero, center manager. “Simply calling ourselves a performing arts center would eliminate a great portion of what we offer.”
BFAC is divided into three spaces: the main theater, which can seat 890 and stage any type of performance; the courtyard, seating 285 for smaller performances and receptions; and the black box – an intimate space that seats 125 for events that often involve audience participation. More than 35,000 people have attended performances since the facility’s opening four years ago.
“We’ve been trying to find one thing we’re best at to separate us from the rest of the region, and what we keep seeing time and time again is that we’re strong in our arts,” says Holly Deitchman, the president and CEO of Batavia Chamber of Commerce. “The Batavia Fine Arts Centre emphasizes the strength of our community.”
From Plans to Productions
When Cattero graduated from Batavia High School in 1999, there was no theater to speak of. Performances were held in the school’s cafeteria, much to the community’s displeasure. Local arts advocates pushed for change, and in April 2007, Batavia residents approved a $75 million building referendum for the high school – a portion of which went toward building BFAC.
“Really, the community is the one to thank for the theater’s existence,” Cattero says. “People tirelessly conducted research, visited other theaters and found out what worked and what didn’t in other places. The community did all of the groundwork.”
The school district had more than an ordinary auditorium in mind. It sought a Fine Arts Center of grander scale – something that anyone could rent, from regional performers to professional touring companies. Construction began in 2008, and the curtain rose for the first time in August 2011.
The theater today has an impressive interior. Seats are separated between the orchestra, mezzanine and balcony, with a full fly system above the stage for quick scene changes. Computerized LED lighting washes the stage, which has multiple trap doors and a hydraulic pit. Performance balconies are located outside the curtain limits, while a full orchestra shell spreads sound throughout the room.
Cattero became involved with BFAC toward the end of the building process. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater, he worked in several artistic positions before returning home in 2010 to be the theater director at his alma mater.
“This theater is special for me, since I grew up here,” Cattero says. “After I went away and fine-tuned my artistry, I was able to come back and share what I learned. Seeing everything go from the planning stages into existence has been one of the biggest thrills.”
Art in Action
Cattero puts careful thought into BFAC’s season lineup. In addition to selecting a wide variety of performers, Cattero seeks a high-quality show. Headliners such as Ed Asner, The Osmond Brothers and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” cast members have graced the stage.
“We don’t just bring shows in – we handpick them,” Cattero says. “Our audience surveys help us to bring in what type of entertainment the community wants to see. I hope that everyone who comes here feels welcomed into a professional space, but in a very small-town way. We stand at the door, we welcome you with kindness and empathy, and we try to provide the best experience you can possibly have.”
Cattero is the only full-time staff member. About 14 other part-time employees work as sound technicians, box office managers and more, with nearly 60 volunteers leaping at the chance to help out as ushers, greeters and hospitality team members.
“We’re always accepting new volunteers,” Cattero says. “The joy that our volunteers spread to those they encounter, because they’re passionate about art – it just enhances their experience, as well as the audience’s experience.”
Bertness enjoyed BFAC performances so much that she became a volunteer in 2012.
“I have the distinct privilege of meeting artists backstage before the show, and seeing to their needs,” Bertness says. “It has been so rewarding to meet people so dedicated to their craft.”
Bertness plans to continue volunteering. Her passion for theater and friendship with Cattero make the work worthwhile.
“Dominic is a terrific mentor, an inspiring leader, an artistic genius, a gifted craftsman, a loyal friend and a genuine ‘old soul’ who gets the big picture and hones in on the fine details,” Bertness says. “In a world in which we seem to be tearing each other down, Dominic lifts people up. Our community is truly blessed to have someone of his caliber in our midst.”
Batavia Fine Arts Centre’s 2015-16 Season
Improv experts from Whose Live Anyway? will leave you laughing after their Oct. 15 performance, while impressionist Jeff Tracta will deliver his comedic genius on Nov. 14.
Other acts include Well-Strung, a classical string quartet putting their own spin on popular music on Dec. 4; Broadway sensations Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, bringing their individual music along with material from their hit show, “Rent,” on Jan. 9.
Red, Hot and Blue, a seasoned cast of entertainers, perform quick-moving choreography and precise vocal harmonies on Feb. 6; David Pomeranz performs his hit spectacle,“Chaplin – A Life. In Concert,” on April 2; and Four By Four pays tribute to great musicians with fully choreographed numbers on June 24.
“The arts are the snapshot of our society at any given time in our lives,” Cattero says. “It’s the artists who tell the story of our society, and we have an obligation to our communities to have them be a part of those stories. This is our humanity at this given time.”