Tracy has pulled off something that I absolutely thought was a multimillion-dollar mistake.
The Grand Theatre Center for the Arts was very expensive and took a great deal of effort. In the beginning, I was utterly opposed to the idea. What a silly pipedream. Too much money, not a big enough venue — it just would not work.
Then something happened to change my mind: I walked inside.
During the past few months, I have joined the ranks of people who think the earth is flat and that if God wanted man to fly, we would have wings. I was wrong. The theater has wings, and it is grand, indeed.
I am a volunteer usher at the theater. Looking a little like British soldiers or bell captains in our red vests, we take tickets, help seat people and provide some security. Some ushers take people on tours, while others shed their vests and act as docents for the galleries.
This is an important, although not strenuous, set of tasks. It is, however, a privilege to be part of this exciting venture into the arts.
We answer lots of questions, such as “why did they leave the old cement wall outside the main theater bare?”
To come up with the right answers, we have to do our homework. The answer is that the old wall shows what once was. When you walk inside, you are confronted with what is. The Grand is a beautiful new place and powerful statement.
Let’s look at my original arguments against the theater.
First, it was very expensive. There is no denying the high cost of rebuilding and restoring the Grand as a center for the arts. The amounts have been published. The other side to that assertion is this: What is the cost to a community that does not have a place to celebrate the arts? What is life like for children who do not grow up exposed to live theater, dance, music and the graphic arts?
Sadly, we have not been willing to fund the arts in schools except in places such as Poet Christian School. There, the art program is an extension of the regular day and is heavily supported by the parents. But the arts have largely been pushed aside by the need to pass tests and meet achievement scores.
We are focused on half of life. Life without art is not complete. Every child without the arts is left behind.
My second initial criticism was that the building is not large enough for graduations and big productions. This is true. Tracy still needs a large auditorium where major events can be hosted. It will come. The Grand Theatre was not designed for that. It is a good size for everything we need to bring there. If we want to double the size of an event, we hold two performances. It is simple math.
The lack of parking space is being addressed — but isn’t it wonderful that so many people want to attend events that parking is actually a problem?
To counter the idea that the Grand will not work, all you have to do is to spend some time there seeing how it really does work. Go beyond how nice it looks (and it looks great).
Walk through the classrooms; see the art being created and shown. As a gallery, the Grand sure beats the Tracy Community Center, where displays had to be taken down for City Council meetings.
Before the Grand, when a teacher wanted a place to feature student recitals, there were just a few churches that had room. Now there is more than enough space, plus the great acoustics of the small theater and concert hall.
The high schools have, or will have, adequate performance centers — the Emma Baumgardner Theater at Tracy High, for example — but the Baumgardner cannot fly sets or accommodate more sophisticated performances. Its curtain has not worked as long as I can recall, and the seating is divided in half. It works for the various purposes for which it was intended, and not much more.
One negative thing about the Grand is that performers and directors cannot blame the limitations of the theater anymore.
Finally, the Grand is not just a dream, it is a reality.
Thanks to the hard work of a group of folks who did not listen to the likes of me, we have a great place to explore the arts.
• Mike McLellan can be contacted by calling and leaving a message at 830-4201 or emailing him at DrMikeM@sbcglobal.net.