GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - People who see entertainment inside the Stockton Performing Arts Center for the first time may remember the venue itself as much as who they came to see.

Entertainers look up at the audience and vice versa in the 550-capacity Stockton PAC as it features a sharp vertical rise.

The Performing Arts Center opened in October 1976 and is adjacent to "K" wing on the Richard Stockton College campus here. Michael Cool, its current director, started working at Stockton in 1977, but began his tenure as the PAC's director in 1989.

Cool doesn't know the reason why the PAC was built the way it was. He heard two explanations over the years.

First, it was difficult to launch new programs when the PAC was built. All of the colleges in the state university system had to agree. There was some resistance, so one theory is the center was built like a lecture hall to navigate around this problem, Cool said.

Second, there may have been a limited footprint to build the PAC on because the construction was in the Pinelands, Cool said.

The PAC's listening experience is better than many other theaters, Cool said. There have been tons of theaters build that as soon as they open they need to close down and renovate to improve the sound, Cool said.

"That happened to Carnegie Hall after it went through one of its renovations not that many years ago... We get lots of compliments from musicians about our sound. They like playing in the hall. They like that rake down to the stage," said Cool, who used the word rake to mean the degree of deviation from a horizontal plane. "Obviously, they will joke about it. We'll go along and tell them they need to be out in time for the knee surgery at 10:30 p.m."

A dance or movement company, for instance, MOMIX or Pilobolus, instantly realizes there will be a very different perspective to what they are doing in the PAC versus many other places they performed. For dance companies, the crowd will not have the perspective the choreographer intended. The dance troupes work well with it, and the audiences love to be able to see the dance from that perspective, Cool said.

Of all the artistic disciplines, music works best in the PAC because of the acoustics of the way it was built, Cool said.

"It has different surfaces up there. The curtains in the back of the room help absorb some of the sound. If you look above, there are catwalks, and there's a trapezoid that was originally designed for lighting instruments, but those things were work well in terms of reflective surfaces to get the sound out into the room. For things like when an orchestra performs here, we do have a music shell that we bring out," Cool said.

Marc Baylin, president of Baylin Artists Management in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pa., has had several of his artists booked into the PAC, including Danu from Ireland and The Turtle Island Quartet from San Francisco.

"The arts center at the college is a wonderful asset for the college and a great asset for the community down there. There really isn't anything like it," said Baylin, who has seen several performances over the years at the PAC. "If it weren't for Michael, none of these artists, not just these artists, but all the other artists that come into that area, they wouldn't go. There would be no place for them to go."

PAC patrons will be in for a surprise soon.

The lobby area is being renovated, and the new lobby will allow visitors a better view of the outside of the PAC and a better appreciation of the architect's original vision. When the renovations are complete, the PAC will be joined by new bathrooms, a new box office, a wine bar, and the art gallery will move into a space previously occupied by a pool for better synergy between the PAC and the art gallery, Cool said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202