Kate Wolfe spent her high school years singing and acting on a cramped stage in a cafeteria. She got ready for performances in hallways and sometimes changed clothes in an open classroom because the bathrooms were locked after school hours.
On Saturday, at the opening ceremonies for the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts's Gala Week, Wolfe will have the opportunity to change in a real dressing room and sing on the stage of the new state-of-the-art facility's 800-seat auditorium. Though the arts center, on the east side of Bowie High School, is not finished, volunteers and other community members who have been toiling for almost 10 years to bring it to fruition are celebrating their work with a week of events at the site.
The program includes live music, exhibits, performances for children, dance shows, food from Bowie restaurants and a headline evening Aug. 21 featuring Broadway performer and Tony and Emmy winner Leslie Uggams and Bowie High School graduate Kathie Lee Gifford.
"The point of this is to show the possibilities of the facilities. School kids can come in and see lectures, so there's an educational component all the way up to Bowie groups and on up to our alumni stars who have made it," said Mary Nusser, vice president of the Bowie Regional Arts Vision Association, the group that formed in 1995 to make the arts center a reality.
"This is our way to let the public know that it's going to happen, and there's going to be a wide variety of things people can expect to see," Nusser said.
After Gala Week, the $13.7 million center will undergo its last phase of construction. Though the building is operational, finishing touches such as rigging and extra lighting and sound components are expected to be completed by January, when arts association members anticipate hiring a full-time staff to keep a schedule of shows running. In the meantime, community groups and the high school can use the building's auditorium and a room that can serve as a recital hall for music and dance performances, a black-box theater, a classroom or rehearsal area.
Moving the facility toward completion has been a labored process. There have been many starts and stops as arts association members worked to garner support from local government and others and to gain enough funding for each construction phase. Though several individuals and regional businesses, including The Washington Post, have donated modest sums over the years, the fundraising campaign is not over. Proceeds from the gala events will help buy computers, desks and chairs, among other things.
When construction began in 1998, Wolfe was a seventh-grader wielding a shovel during the ground-breaking festivities.
"I thought it would be done even before I got to high school. Then every day in classes [in high school] we would hear jackhammers going and stuff, and now finally they can use it," said Wolfe, who is headed to the musical theater program at Penn State University. "I'm jealous that I won't be able to use it, but there are others that will be able to use it, and I'm excited to watch performances there," she said.
Wolfe's parents, both professional actors, are also excited about the prospects.
Her mother, Brenna McDonough, said: "In a lot of respects, this has put Bowie on the map. I'm hoping they'll bring acts in from out of town that will bring people other than residents of Prince George's County.
"I travel to Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center, so why would it be so unusual for somebody to travel to our community?" she said. "This is just remarkable. It polishes up the diamond a little bit."
Gala Week runs Saturday through Aug. 21. A schedule of events is online at www.bowieartscenter.com and at the box office, 15200 Annapolis Rd. The opening ceremonies are from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and the "Star-Studded Evening" with Leslie Uggams and Kathy Lee Gifford is at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 21. Tickets, which range from free to $100, can be purchased on the Web site or at the box office from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 301-805-0288.