Tyler Davis, performing arts professional at the Performing Arts Center
Tyler Davis is the new Director of Facilities for the Oak Ridge Performing Arts Center at Oak Ridge High School. In the few months he’s been on the job, Tyler has already raised the bar and upped the ante in Oak Ridge’s most shamefully underutilized gem.
A graduate of Maryville College, Tyler rises to the challenge of leading PAC with a full arsenal of skills after several years as assistant technical director at the bubbly Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville. He’s also a stagehand with IATSE Local 197, the Stage Workers Union, so he has experience at every major venue in Knoxville, from the Tennessee Theater to the Thompson Boling Arena.
“I majored in music at Maryville College,” he told me. “I dreamed of playing jazz bass, but then I got involved in the audio technology of live concert production. So audio led me to the other aspects of show production, like lighting, the design and construction of the sets, the rigging and the management of the stage.That’s a good thing too, because I was not so good on the bass.
After pausing to enjoy Bud’s coffee (by far the best in Oak Ridge), Tyler thinks a little deeper.
“You know, everyone thinks they want to be an artist. But in theater, the real job security is knowing how to make things work! Like how to program and operate a light board. How to set up , tuning and balancing a PA system, or how to keep things under control when there are 12 microphones on stage.
Tyler showed off the depth of his knowledge and experience producing The Masquers’ “Clue” at PAC in December. Thanks to his many contacts in the area, he knew where to borrow or rent sets, and how to design and build what he couldn’t beg, borrow or steal. He knew where to find lights, cables, audio equipment and costumes, and how to coordinate the other designers and crew teams under the direction of the show’s incredible director, Amy Uptgraft.
To put the icing on the cake, Tyler sat confidently in the driver’s seat, overseeing the eager students who worked on the lights, sound, scenery changes and flyrail, all while keeping Everybody (that’s a “Hint” pun right there) on track, on pace, and on the same page for the whole killer thrill ride. In a show that litters the stage with more corpses than you can count, no one missed a cue or clue.
And the day “Clue” wrapped and the stage cleared, Tyler turned around and was ready to load up Oak Ridge Civic Ballet’s production of “Nutcracker.”
Tyler is just what the Performing Arts Center needed since it was reborn during the high school’s renovation, and he’s come at exactly the right time, because it’s time for an honest-to-God performing professional to articulate the enormous potential of the place.
When I went to ORHS, the PAC was just “the auditorium”. At the time, it didn’t seem so remarkable. I assumed that every above average high school had a similar theater.
But they don’t.
Surely most high schools don’t have a place with such vibrant acoustics, such clear sight lines, such capacity, and such vast backstage and wing space. Very few high school theaters have a counterweight fly system like PAC’s. And after decades in theaters around the world, I don’t know of any other theater anywhere that has the vibe of a 1965 Corvette Stingray like PAC does.
Here is the bottom line. The PAC must be a venue that can be used by for-profit and non-profit producers of commercial shows.
For example, I had long hoped that producer Ashley Capps would include dance events in the mix of the Big Ears Festival’s four days of beautiful mayhem in March, but that was out of the question because there weren’t any just not enough rooms. in Knoxville.
If the PAC were available for Big Ears, there could be four nights of world-class dancing in the Festival, putting Big Ears in the same class as Spoleto, the Edinburgh Festival, the Avignon Festival, Ravenna and the Festival of Jerusalem. And if dance were to receive the affectionate treatment that Big Ears lavishes on jazz, which is its international trademark, the Festival could revitalize an art form badly withered by COVID-19.
Big Ears General Manager Aaron Greenwald spent many years producing dance events as Executive Director of Duke Performances at Duke University in North Carolina. The PAC at Oak Ridge is a perfect dance floor, and no one could use it better than Aaron.
So…the Oak Ridge City Council, City Manager, and School Superintendent need to sit down and figure out what needs to be done to make this happen. I’ll be happy to contribute my experience and perspective, and Tyler can answer basic questions about how a rental location works.
Tyler spent a lot of time visualizing the improvements that should be made to the PAC to make it an attractive place, such as upgrading the old lighting console and installing new efficient color-changing LED lights.
The PAC has 1,200 places! That’s 500 more than the Théâtre Bijou. So why is it dark except for a few nights every year?
Any of the artists who played the Summer Sessions gigs last summer could easily sell the PAC. North, west, and southwest of Oak Ridge for 100 miles, there are no cultural venues that come close to capacity.
John Job is a longtime Oak Ridge resident and frequent contributor to The Oak Ridger.