Rambler Newspapers

Serving Irving, Coppell and Grand Prairie

Photo by Rodney Moore

Coppell—The Coppell Arts Center hosted its grand opening over the weekend with the Takeoff Arts and Music Festival. The events featured activities from Thursday, Sept. 9 through Sunday, Sept. 12.

Thursday featured a guided stroll through Old Town Coppell, which included temporary art installations, artist meet-and-greets, sidewalk art, and food trucks. Performances by the Coppell Community Chorale, Coppell Community Orchestra, Ballet Ensemble of North Texas, and Milaana Dance were highlighted.

Friday included a live concert by country singer Coffey Anderson with an opening performance by Matt Castillo in the Arts Center’s Main Hall.

Tony and Emmy Award-winning singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth performed her “For the Girls” concert on Saturday. The show celebrates iconic female entertainers. Chenoweth teaches a musical theatre course at TCU, and her performance included an impromptu duet with one of her students during the show.

The festival was capped on Sunday with two performances by magician Mike Super, a finalist on ‘America’s Got Talent’and winner of ‘Phenomenon.’

The Coppell Arts Center itself was built without using a single taxpayer dollar. It was entirely funded through a sales tax fund, called the Coppell Recreational Development Corporation, according to Alex Hargis, the managing director of Coppell Arts Center.

“The venue itself is a performing arts and visual arts complex, and it has a visual arts gallery,” Hargis said. “It has three performance areas, and the main hall itself is an intimate jewel box with 442 seats. Anything that comes in, whether it’s a concert, small Broadway, dance, anything like that, it’s going to be a phenomenal experience without a bad seat, which is something you can’t say if you go to any of the larger venues.

“Up until this venue, if you wanted to see anything that was touring, you had to go to a downtown, whether it was Dallas or Fort Worth. With this venue, especially if you’re in the suburbs, you’ve got a quality regional entertainment venue at your fingertips.

“First and foremost, we’re excited that all of our local artists have a new place to present their work and to grow. The primary reason we were built was to give them a proper platform to be showcased. [After the grand opening festival] there is an art exhibition coming on the history of blues, which is going to be pretty fantastic. Our first Broadway show, ‘Buddy,’ which is the Buddy Holly musical, is coming in early October.

“The consistent feedback we’re getting is people are absolutely blown away and surprised there is a venue like this in Coppell, close to them, and the entertainment they get to see is of this high quality,” Hargis said. “What we’re hearing is, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad there’s something so close for me to go, and I don’t have to go super far to see this kind of content.’

“This thing is a really unique blend, where it has that community center feel. It’s low key, and it’s accessible.Everybody can come together, but the quality of the architecture, the quality of the service and staff, and then the entertainment in the artistry you see is something you would expect in a bigger place. The fact being you have those two together, that kind of community comfortability, but at the same time, you’re impressed [with the content]. That’s a unique blend you don’t find in a lot of places,” he said.

One of the three performance venues the Arts Center features is named the Wheelice Wilson, Jr. Theatre.

Wheelice Wilson, Jr., also called Pete, founded Theatre Coppell in 1988 and is its executive director. He was the drama teacher at Coppell High School for 36 years.

“In 1988, [Theatre Coppell] started performing in the high school,” Wilson said. “Eventually, it was impossible to perform at the high school, because the drama program was growing greatly.”

As a result of the program’s growth, in 1999, the city of Coppell converted an unused fire station into the Coppell Center for the Arts. The building remained the city’s art venue until the opening of the Coppell Arts Center.

“The new firehouse theatre was called an Arts Center, but the only use of the building was the theatre with performing plus rehearsal space,” Wilson said.

The old center was a black box theatre with 124 seats. The new building offers three theatrespaces with 442, 196, and 120 seats.

“If you’re a Coppell resident or live anywhere nearby, it’s a source of pride for your community,” Wilson said.“Our hope is that people [unfamiliar with the arts] come see a little bit and say, ‘This is neat, I think I want to try that.’”