Published: 1:00 pm, Sun. Jun. 5th, 2016Updated: 3:34 pm
The week after Laurie Schotz arrived in Artesia to take on her new position as director of the Artesia Arts Council and Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, she was asked to speak at a meeting of the Altrusa Club.
There, she laid out her hopes for a facility she feared was becoming slowly distanced from the community at large: “I would love to see something always going on in this building.”
The OPAC was a labor of love for organizations like the Artesia Community Theatre, which salvaged it from near-ruins, the Artesia Arts Council, and local philanthropists and supporters of the arts such as the late Estelle Yates.
“A lady in the group said, ‘I remember taking a watercolor class once, and there was somebody playing the trumpet, and somebody on stage rehearsing, and guitar lessons going on in the lobby, and I thought, ‘This is exactly how Estelle would want this building to be used,’’” recalls Schotz. “And that’s what’s stuck with me. That’s what I want, too.”
Schotz, a native of Lorain, Ohio, and a graduate of Kent State University, where she majored in elementary education with a minor in dance and to which she returned to earn her masters in special education, was a professional singer and dancer at 19, performing in regional theatres, at theme parks, and on cruises.
She met her ex-husband, a professional stuntman, after being hired on at Old Tucson Studios; they were engaged and moved to Chicago, where she earned a second masters in dance and movement therapy with an emphasis in psychoanalysis from Columbia College.
Her next venture was a successful company – the Chicago Stunt Team and the Windy City Two-Steppers – which she ran for more than 13 years while remaining active in professional theatre.
A return to Old Tucson Studios saw her continuing to perform but testing the waters behind the scenes, as well, as a writer and director for saloon and stunt shows, and as her career continued, she served as artistic director at Bearcreek Farms Country Resort in Bryant, Ind., for eight years; director of operations/managing director of the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres Resort in Nappanee, Ind.; and owner of Best Schotz Productions, LLC, in Warsaw, Ind., where she directed the 972-seat Warsaw Performing Arts Center.
Schotz was hired earlier this year by the Artesia Arts Council and arrived from Warsaw – 27-year-old mustang Red, 12-year-old quarter horse Wyatt, and faithful dog Kermit in tow – determined to broaden the horizons of Artesia’s enviable performing arts center.
“I feel the diversity of the facility was great when it first started, but then we got kind of pigeonholed into ‘This is what we do,’” says Schotz. “I hope that, with this new season, people will see that there’s really something for everyone. And not just with the genre of the act, whether it’s a musician or a comedian or a theatre group, but also the price.
“There’s a price for, I think, everyone, and something for all ages, from the Glenn Miller Orchestra to Toying with Science for little kids. And hopefully we’ll start to see that diversity in the people who come through our doors.”
Two primary goals for Schotz were to expand the OPAC’s marketing efforts and improve the customer service aspect of the center. She went immediately to work reaching out to organizations and businesses in Carlsbad and Roswell.
“I want to bridge that gap between Artesia, Roswell and Carlsbad so that this becomes a big community instead of focusing only on Artesia,” she says. “In doing that, we’ve done some things like invite Carlsbad choirs to join in a concert with us, and we’re getting some sponsorships from Roswell that are going to help us out as we continue along the way.”
Schotz was concerned unforeseen circumstances in the past that affected ticketing and shows had damaged the OPAC’s relationship with its customer base, and she was determined to correct that issue, as well.
“I feel that because of some circumstances that were beyond the employees’ control, we lost a lot of the ‘warm fuzzies’ and the consistency, so we’re trying to bring that back,” she says. “For instance, I’ve already added two more shows to the Golden Ticket without raising the price, so instead of calling people up and saying a show’s cancelled, we’re calling to say, ‘Hey, we added a show!’ and building that trust back with our loyal customers and the new customers we’re receiving.
“We want to stick to our word and be transparent so that people know when we say we’re going to do something for them, we’re going to do it.”
Schotz took the helm in time to organize the OPAC’s upcoming season of events, which ranges from a season-opening show by Hank Williams Remembered to comic magician Dana Daniels to a tribute to The Carpenters to tie in with the annual Balloons & Tunes Festival.
Riders in the Sky will be the OPAC’s biggest concert in December, and Branson on the Road will serve as the center’s holiday offering this year in replacement of the Flying J Wranglers – although Schotz assures Wranglers fans they will return in 2017.
Other events will include theatre productions of “Hamlet,” “The Giver” and “The Grapes of Wrath,” Ocotillo Comedy Troupe and Elite Theatre performances of “Sleepy Hollow: A Musical Tale” around Halloween, and free family events such as the Polar Express in December and a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Schotz and OPAC Education Director Lauren Austin are also working to expand the center’s educational offerings.
“We’re really upping our game when it comes to the education department, and not just for the kids,” says Schotz. “We’re doing things for adults, as well, and some things that people may not even think of as ‘the arts’ but that there’s a need for in the community.
“We have a stunt workshop coming up, some yoga workshops. And if anybody has anything they really want to learn more about or want to see, I’m more than willing to try to go out there and find it and bring it in.”
In the future, Schotz hopes to see the OPAC’s base of season ticket holders expand such that shows are half if not three-quarters of the way sold before tickets go on sale to the general public, and she’s looking forward to the start of the new season and the possibilities it will bring.
“I want us to be in a position where we have to go to a bigger venue to have a huge artist, and I feel we need to sell this out nine out of 10 times before that constitutes going to a bigger venue, whether it’s the fairgrounds or the high school or wherever it may be. We want to be delivering to our customers so well that we need to do things like that.
“I haven’t met all of our customers yet, so I’m looking forward to starting in September and getting to see more people. We’ve had a few comments so far that there seems to be a lot more going on here than there has been in the past, and that’s what we want. That doesn’t mean we’re where we want to be, but people are noticing the activity, and that’s a good start.”