It was called Proposition 2, it asked Flagler County voters to approve a $2.6 million bond issue ($5 million in current dollars) to build a 1,000-seat performing arts venue on the campus of Flagler-Palm Coast High School, and it appeared on the Sept. 6, 1988 ballot. It was one of two bond proposals that fall. The other was a $16.7 million levy for improvements to the high school and for a new elementary school.
If Vegas bookies had set their odds on the measures, they’d have bet against both: just nine months earlier, voters had overwhelmingly rejected a combined A $33.4 million bond issue for pretty much the same things and more, though the school board had sheepishly stayed away from actively supporting the proposal. The board (Andy Anderson, Nancy Dance, James DuPont, Dennis Fitzgerald and Herschel King) had left the campaigning to Superintendent Don Kaupke and a citizen’s advisory group. Seventy-six percent of voters rejected the levy.
That Sept. 6, after board members, parents and others had campaigned heavily, the two smaller bond proposals passed, if by small margins. The auditorium levy got just 55 percent of the vote (3,211 for, 2624 against), and if it weren’t for Palm Coast voters, it would have failed: many precincts in the rest of Flagler County were decidedly against spending money for a performing arts venue, including south Flagler Beach, the Hammock and the western portion of the county.
“The troops are happy,” Kaupke said at the time, ending a four-year effort to finance a large performing arts venue in the county.
The auditorium was built, and on Nov. 2, 1991—20 years ago today, on a day when a young Bill Clinton, in New Hampshire, was accusing the first Bush of abandoning the middle class—pianist Roger Williams and the 10-piece Dave Trigg Orchestra inaugurated the first performance with pieces by Gershwin, Chopin, with Broadway and pop standards including “St. Louis Blues” and “Autumn leaves,” and with bits and pieces of “Mairzy Doats” thrown in along the way, like Williams’s between-piece quips about Congress, Madonna and heavy metal. Tickets had sold for $24, $22 and $19.50 (the equivalent of $40, $37 and $32.50 today).
The record doesn’t show how many of the 1,000 seats were filled that evening, but it is not at all an exaggeration to estimate that close to 2 million people have walked through the Auditorium doors through the year. The math tells the story. There are 20 to 25 professional shows a year, about 100 to 125 community and school events a year. Those shows alone draw, conservatively, between 50,000 and 75,000 people a year. There’s plenty more.
“When you think about it, it is the one facility in our community that almost everybody ends up at in a year for some kind of an event,” Lisa McDevitt, the auditorium director for the past 11 years, says. “That doesn’t include the fact that we teach there every day, and we do anywhere between five to seven classes in the auditorium a day, with 30 to 35 students in each. That’s just the theater technical program. That doesn’t include the chorus or the band or any of them that come into the auditorium and use it. So there’s a lot of traffic in and out of here. If you times that times 20 years, we’ve impacted a lot of people.”
Tonight at 6, McDevitt has organized a special 20th anniversary tribute for the auditorium. “The plan is to celebrate the accomplishments of the Flagler Auditorium and talk a little bit about the history and to have fun celebrating the arts and arts in education,” McDevitt said. There’s a free 7 p.m. performance by the Cornell Gunter’s Coasters (think of “American Graffiti”’s soundtrack, which would have lacked something without their “YaketyYak”), but the warm-up act is, if you can forgive the Flagler-flavored participle dangling, where the nostalgia will be at.
Sue Dickinson, chairman of the Flagler County School Board—the actual owner of the auditorium—and Superintendent Janet Valentine will speak, along with County Commissioner Barbara Revels, an original board member of the Flagler Auditorium, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts, and Susan Burke, executive director of the Florida Alliance for Arts Education. Matanzas’s steel drums ensemble will be performing as guests are coming in, Flagler Palm Coast’s Formality Singers will also perform, and there’ll be a couple of surprise appearances.
Auditorium Board President Richard Hamilton, too, will speak. “I can’t even imagine Flagler County without the auditorium,” he said earlier today, when asked to picture the county without the auditorium. “I can’t imagine the kids through the years having had nowhere to perform, to experience the full spectrum of a live theater on their education, and I think it would have had a very serious effect on a lot of people not wanting to relocate inside the county if they didn’t have somewhere local to go to enjoy quality performances.”
Over the years—and this is a bare-minimum sampling—the auditorium stage has seen such acts as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Jacksonville Symphony, the Amadeus Trio, the Chicago Brass, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Irish Rovers, Ben Vereen (who’s kicking off the coming season), the Harry James, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey orchestras, the Ten Tenors, Chubby Checkers. Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and “Cosi Fan Tutte” operas have been staged, as have an innumerable number of plays and musicals, including “Annie Get Your Gun,” “The Odd Couple,” “Hello, Dolly,” “The King and I,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Man of La Mancha.” The auditorium is the home of the county’s annual talent show, the Teacher of the Year celebration, the high school’s drama club’s performances, and of course the Amy Fulmer’s Formality Singers, John Seth’s 140-piece band and the 300-member Flagler Youth Orchestra.
“Arts in education is a wonderful thing, so we always hope to keep arts alive in our schools,” McDevitt says. “There’s also an economic impact, because we do bring a lot of visitors into our community from out of county, and we also bring about 500 performers from out of state who stay here, stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores. So I think it’s a very good thing. And a lot of the students who have graduated from here and have been involved in the auditorium and the arts program, they really have done major accomplishments thus far in life. We enlighten a lot of lives, so we continue to hope to continue that mission. We are a place of entertainment, we want people to be entertained when they come, and relax. We mind of call it the stress-free zone. We all need that in our lives.”