Comedian Ben Bailey will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Kenai Peninsula College as part of its Showcase program, now in its 20th year.
Kenai Peninsula College likes to show off.
Starting with a concert to celebrate a new piano two decades ago, KPC's showmanship has included academic lectures as well as a variety of musical, theatrical and artistic presentations and has spread beyond the Kenai River campus to involve the surrounding central Kenai Peninsula community.
Now in its 20th year, the KPC Showcase program still is going strong and is planning one of its most diverse schedules of entertainment yet, from a comedian this weekend to a "Blue-Grassical" musical performance next and possibly even a hypnotist in the future.
The program started in 1984, when two KPC instructors at the time, Jean Brockel, who taught vocal classes, and English professor Dave Forbes wanted a way for their students to be able to display their skills.
"If you're a student of the performing arts, you've go to perform. That's it. That's the bottom line of the whole thing," Brockel said.
Forbes and Brockel organized a series of free performances Sundays at the college, starting with a concert on April Fool's Day 1984 to celebrate the purchase of KPC's first piano.
At first, performers were mainly students, and being in a Showcase program often was part of their class requirements. But it wasn't long before Brockel and Forbes realized there were more people at the college than just the students who had something worth sharing.
"As we went along, it just seemed a natural thing to look at the faculty out there and say, 'Gee, these are people who are very knowledgeable and make their living giving lectures, so why don't we have them in the Showcase, too?'" Brockel said. "It added a nice dimension."
The program started out small, but enjoyed community support from the start, Brockel said, in the form of attendance and financial support.
"The community right from the very beginning was very, very supportive," she said. "When we started out it was very much on a shoestring, it was wherever we could scrape up a few bucks to send out mailers and print programs."
Involving the community with Showcases, rather than making it strictly a college event, was always integral to Brockel and Forbes' concept for the program.
"Right from very beginning we all agreed this was the kind of thing that should happen in a college town," Brockel said. "There should be entertainment and all of the Showcases were free. This was a college town the central peninsula area and there should be some benefits to it to the general community, not just to the students, but to the whole community."
The benefits have come in the form of a regular entertainment venue for central peninsula residents to watch as well as perform at once the Showcase program opened up to community acts.
Brockel and Forbes didn't know what kind of response the Showcases would get at first, but they soon saw the events were more popular than they had expected.
"Twenty to 30 people, that would be a lot of people for a Sunday afternoon that was our thinking then," Brockel said. "It got to 60 people or more than that, depending on the event. It grew to the point where the program won a Chancellor's Award for Excellence from the university (of Alaska)."
After starting and shepherding the program along for 17 years, Brockel and Forbes decided to retire from their duties of Sunday showmans, but the Showcase program didn't retire with them.
KPC Evening Coordinator Dave Atcheson took over the reigns as Showcase coordinator, and steered it in new directions.
"When David (Forbes) and I left, we were both pleased with what has happened," Brockel said. "We felt very much like we really did something good. When Dave Atcheson appeared, we were like, 'Wow, this is fantastic,' because he had new ideas. The college has constantly changed and he had ideas that matched and meshed with what's going on out there and it was fantastic, and still is fantastic."
Atcheson took over about 3 1/2 years ago and the program has changed quite a bit in that time. Not all performances are held on Sundays anymore, and some now have admission fees to cover growing costs. The biggest change came with the advent of funding from the Anna Fossett Goodrich Hu-manities Program of the Damon Memorial Fund.
"They've been pretty generous with a grant for the past three years which has helped us expand quite a bit to doing other stuff," Atcheson said. "It has really helped a lot."
The money has allowed the Showcase program to bring performers in from outside the peninsula and Alaska, like a marimba band from Homer, a flutist from Fairbanks and comedians from the Lower 48. KPC's ties with the University of Alaska system also has helped the Showcase program, giving KPC a chance to bring performers to the peninsula that UAA has brought to Alaska.
"(It's helped) big time. We wouldn't be able to get (performers) like the comedians, otherwise," Atcheson said.
The Showcase program has teamed up with other KPC groups, as well, like the Multicultural Consortium to host Irish musicians and the KPC Student Union to put on arts extravaganzas. These associations have just helped add to the variety of Showcases.
"It's a really diverse group of things we have, from a filmmaker from Anchorage to a marimba band to a comedian. A nationally-acclaimed author is coming and a group of local musicians (will play). We have a pretty wide variety," Atcheson said.
Atcheson said attendance at Showcases varies, and he said he hopes to draw more of the student body to performances in the future. So far, comedians have been the biggest Showcase hit, Atcheson said, with sell-out crowds both times.
"That's been really popular, Atcheson said. "I think people can't get that here. ... Last year a lot of people said, 'How did you get those guys here to do that?'"
On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the Showcase program will again host comedian Ben Bailey, who performed here in 2002. Since his last trip north, the New York comedian and actor has appeared in the movie "Spiderman 2." He's also performed at more than 200 colleges and has been on several TV shows, including "The New Star Search" and Comedy Central's "Premium Blend," and "Tough Crowd." Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students, staff and seniors, and are available at the KPC Bookstore, River City Books in Soldotna and Old Town Music in Kenai. The show may not be suitable for children. Atcheson said there still are tickets available, but if this is a repeat of Bailey's last trip, those tickets won't last long.
"The first time I was kind of freaking out," Atcheson said. "It was the first time we sold tickets (for a Showcase) and the first time we spent a lot of money like that. I was like, 'Oh my God, we haven't sold any tickets.' Then the day before we sold all of them and I was wondering where we were going to put all the people."
Other upcoming shows include "Blue-Grassical," a program combining bluegrass and classical music by area musicians at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 14, and a book signing and craft talk with acclaimed author Pam Houston who has won the Best American Short Stories of the Century, The O. Henry Award, and The Pushcart Prize, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24. There may even be a hypnotist and magician on the horizon, Atcheson said.
Whether it's authors, singers, actors or anything else, after 20 years, KPC is still committed to going on with the show.
"I think (it's going) pretty well." Atcheson said. "I know I'm a lot less nervous putting on a show. When I first started, it was a lot more anxiety for me. I enjoy it now because I don't really worry as much about it. It's a lot more fun for me, that's for sure."
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