ORONO, Maine — On Sept. 20, 1986, the Maine Center for the Arts dazzled audiences at its inaugural gala, which featured a sold out performance by violinist Isaac Stern, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
Since its inception, the renamed Collins Center for the Arts’ 1,435-seat Hutchins Concert Hall has hosted all manner of performances, from off-Broadway shows and singer Bob Dylan, to speaker Maya Angelou and musical act Ella Fitzgerald.
This upcoming season, the CCA’s 30th anniversary program will feature an Academy Award-winning comedian, an avant-garde dance performance and a family oriented pet show, among others.
The season kicks off with the CCA’s annual gala featuring “Piano Men: The Music of Elton and Billy with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra” on Sept. 12.
The 30th anniversary also marks a special occasion for Danny Williams, who started at the University of Maine in 1986 as a music student. Three decades later, he serves as executive director and with Brett Zeigler, manager of special projects, has helped organize this season’s program with the past in mind.
“The gala is always a focus for us, this year especially because it’s an anniversary year. We are excited to be involving the Bangor Symphony Orchestra because the Bangor Symphony Orchestra opened the hall with Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern [in 1986],” Williams said.
The performers of “Piano Men” will be joined by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in a special collaboration hearkening back to their first performance years ago at the facility’s opening.
Over the past three decades, much has changed at the entertainment hub, but its purpose has remained constant.
“We are here to provide top-quality live performance to our community and to our region. And like the University of Maine, it is intended to be affordable and accessible in keeping with the university’s mission,” Williams said.
The facility was a welcome addition to the community in 1986, which was long deprived of a space to provide live, professional performance. It was renamed for patrons Richard R. and Anne A. Collins in 2007, who gifted $5 million to the center to boost the arts on campus,
Renovations completed in early 2009 turned the lobby into an open and inviting place to enjoy conversation and brought new technology for live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera, a renowned classical music organization that resides at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York, New York. This season’s schedule includes 11 broadcasts of Met performances, including “Madama Butterfly.”
For its 30th anniversary season, the CCA will feature myriad acts, including many with Maine roots. Old Town native and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Patty Griffin will perform on Oct. 3, and Maine comedian Bob Marley will return Oct. 23. “From the Top with host Chris O’Reilly” also will grace the stage on Oct. 25 and will feature young Maine musicians.
L.A. Theatre Works will present “Dracula” on Oct. 10, just in time for Halloween and the Broadway show “The Producers,” which Williams is looking forward to most, will appear on Nov. 8.
Other highlights include the “Art of Time Ensemble: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on Nov. 17, which features Steven Page, founder of the Barenaked Ladies, among others, reimagining the album of that name by the Beatles.
Karen Cole, associate director, hopes the audience will continue to expand after a “100 percent increase in audience” and increased revenues last year. “We look forward to continuing that and continuing to grow,” she said.
“The audience is the lifeblood of a performing arts center. … I try to stand in the lobby 45 minutes to an hour before the show, and nothing warms my heart more than not recognizing a soul that comes through the door. My hope, my wish, my dream is that when we’re bringing people here and bringing audiences here that they’re new, they’re varied, they’re people who have never come to anything like this before,” Williams said.
To view a full program of events, visit collinscenterforthearts.com/events/. Single tickets for the season went on sale July 1 and can be purchased online or by contacting the box office at 581-1755.