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Pioneer Center in Reno reopens with Hamilton

Four actors in the foreground on a stage look up at the ceiling while one lifts his arm to point upwards. Six actors can be seen in the background turned away from the direction of the audience, each lifting one fist toward the ceiling.
Joan Marcus
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Hamilton And Peggy National Tour
The Hamilton And Peggy Company national tour is performing in downtown Reno at the Pioneer Center for multiple days in November of 2021.

COVID-19 has kept the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Reno shuttered for the past 19 months. Now, the curtain is rising once again as the center welcomes Broadway to the stage. You might have heard of the show. It's called Hamilton. KUNR contributor Kevin McCray speaks with Dennyse Sewell, executive director at the Pioneer Center, about the reopening and just what makes this show so popular.

Kevin McCray: How does it feel to be putting on a show right now?

 

Denise Sewell: The building has this crackling electric feeling right now. The show has been loading in over three days, and we are so excited.

 

McCray: You've worked with Pioneer for a while, and you've worked with some other local places, like The Holland project. What have you noticed, or have you noticed, a change in the arts and culture appetite or personality of Reno over the years? Have you noticed any changes?

 

Sewelll: I think with the growth in our population, with all of the folks who are relocating here from other cities, they bring with them an expectation of access to arts and cultural opportunities. And we do live in a community with a wealth of art galleries, performance groups, theater spaces, murals, sculptures. This, this is a community that has been steeped in art long before I was born, and will continue to be well after I'm gone, but, yes, I think the growth in population has really encouraged local arts groups to dream big, and to aim higher and to present bigger, more daring works. And I really think it's been well received by the community, in general, across the broad spectrum of all of the arts groups here.

 

McCray: So, before, we did speak a little bit about the COVID card mandate that went into effect October 1st, and I asked you a little bit about the reactions then. Has there been any other responses, negative or positive, that have occurred since then, especially since a show is coming in now?

 

Sewell: Yeah, so the current regulations here at the Pioneer Center are that audience members need to remain masked at all times unless they're actively eating or drinking. And when they arrive, they need to show their photo ID, proof of full vaccination status, or proof of a negative COVID test result. In general, the response from our patrons has been very positive; the vast majority of folks have reached out to let us know that they're really grateful that we have this policy in place; that it helps them to feel safe coming into a large gathering together with folks who are not in their immediate household. There has been a small portion of folks who've indicated they're not willing to follow these policies, and we have issued full refunds for those individuals. It's about one-half of 1% of current ticket holders that have asked for a refund because of our policies.

 

McCray: Going back a little bit for the show that you're doing right now, Hamilton, do you have an opinion about what makes this show so popular?

 

Sewell: I, personally, love the show. It's the story of the founding of this country, but told through a modern lens, so that it's accessible. This isn't dusty, old history. This is here and now. You feel the struggles and the aspirations of the individuals that founded this country. And I really do believe it speaks to everyone, young and old, across the spectrum, because it is about belief in a better world and fighting for what you think is possible for those who will come after you to inherit. It's an incredibly beautiful, powerful production.

 

McCray: It seems like maybe that's important right now with so much negativity going on for people to have some type of hope. Is there a particular theme or part of the show that--you said it speaks to everyone. Is there something that speaks to you?

 

Sewell: Yes, for me personally, and I would suspect I'm not alone in this, the dichotomy between Alexander Hamilton, who was brash and went after what he wanted and wasn't afraid to speak out, juxtaposed against Aaron Burr, who was very cautious, and who preferred to wait and see how things would unfold before he declared his stance, I think is an absolutely fascinating exploration of the two sides of each of us as individual people. The side that wants to wait for more data, more information to see how the winds are going to blow before we stand up, or the side that says, ‘I know in my gut what's right, and I'm willing to stand up for it.’ It's absolutely fascinating, and to watch those characters grapple with those aspects of themselves, for better and for worse, for both of them, I think is absolutely fascinating and really relevant to each and every one of us, personally.

 

McCray: Thank you very much. Thank you for your time today.

 

Kevin McCray is a former on-air host at KUNR Public Radio.
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