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Best of Olympia 2018: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts

Readers' pick: Best entertainment venue

The 983-seat Washington Center hosts hundreds of events each year. Photo Courtesy The Washington Center

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Sure, it's called The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, but it's more accurate to say it's the center of Olympian culture.

The Center occupies the former real estate of the vaudeville-age Liberty Theater, which opened in 1924 and was renovated two-dozen years later as the Olympic Theater cinema. Then, when that building was cleared in the early 1980s, elements of its façade went into the exterior design of Olympia's pre-eminent arts center. The four-level, 983-seat facility hosts hundreds of events each year, from academic or scientific lectures to the hottest touring acts. In 2017, for example, its calendar included performances by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, actor-singer Lauren Fox and world-renowned saxophonist Kenny G. The coming weeks, season ticket-holders can see two different nights of standup comedy, A Really Big Shoe 12: The Brothers Four Playing the Folk Music of America and South Puget Sound Community College's production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.

"January of 2017 started out really well," said Jill Barnes, executive director for The Center, "when we presented Vince Gill & The Time Jumpers. That was followed up by the Broadway touring show STOMP. ... (T)he sold-out school matinée and evening show with Black Violin was probably my personal favorite. ... It truly was the most heartwarming for me to be a part of and to see. This is what the arts do: They bring people together, which is more important than ever. When the lights go down in the theater, our hearts and minds are opened to different ideas, dialogues, cultures, understandings, empathy and joy." This season (2017) was complicated by the unexpected cancellation of two major shows, but The Center rebounded with An Evening with Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, which Barnes calls "our most successful show of the season and one full of extraordinary memories for our patrons."

Coming next month to The Washington Center, watch for comic quasi-blasphemy in God Is a Scottish Drag Queen, the terpsichorean stylings of Studio West Dance Guild, the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival, comedian Brian Regan, The Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus, the Olympia Symphony Orchestra and many other fascinating, enriching performances.

"I recently went to a performing arts booking conference in New York City," said Barnes, "where I previewed 21 artists ... for 2018-2019. Looking ahead, we are committed to our mission to inspire audiences and artists of all ages through live performances, enriching the vibrancy of our community. We will continue to deliver diverse, affordable, high-quality performing arts programs; support the artistic interests of performing arts groups within the region; promote performing arts education in the South Puget Sound region for all age groups and maintain fair and equitable community access to The Washington Center performing arts facility."

THE GLASS MENAGERIE, 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, March 1-3; 2 p.m., Sunday, March 4, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, $15, 360.753.8586,

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