New arts center opens with a cappella shows

The new Westbrook Performing Arts Center will swing open its doors next weekend for its very first event – a full day of a cappella workshops and performances.

The event, called Male House Rock, is geared toward young male singers, but anyone can attend.

Because the event has previously been held at the First Parish Congregational Church in Saco, its organizers have ramped up their efforts to get the word out about the change of venue. With more space available in the auditorium, which is attached to Westbrook’s new middle school, they hope to draw a bigger crowd than ever.

“It’s a new thing, and getting the word out and getting people aware of it is huge,” said Patrick McCarthy, a music teacher at Westbrook High School and a member of Sidecar Heroes, one of the professional a cappella groups performing at the event.

Male House Rock is McCarthy’s brainchild. He said it’s harder to get boys to sing in middle school and high school, and it’s important to give them support and encouragement – the goal of the event.

Females, however, are welcome, too, as well as anyone who loves listening to a cappella. Annette McKay, president of the Westbrook Music Boosters, the event’s host, said she hopes the popularity of NBC’s reality show “The Sing-Off” will help increase interest and attendance.

“The singers are of that caliber, but there is no competition, just great music,” McKay said.

Now in its third year, Male House Rock will be held on Saturday, Feb. 13.

From noon- 3 p.m., students from around the state can attend workshops on beat-boxing, barbershop style, songwriting and stage presence. In the afternoon, a slew of high school and professional a cappella groups will give 20-minute performances.

After a break for dinner, when a catered meal will be available for $10 a plate, headliner The GrooveBarbers will take the stage.

The hundreds of student singers expected to attend will be the first to see the new state-of-the-art auditorium in action.

“There’s an incredible amount of technology in this theater,” said Jamie Grant, manager of the performing arts center. “It’s really just loaded.”

Grant said the 1,000-seat auditorium has a lighting system with 192 dimmers and a 48-channel digital sound board. Though it won’t be used for the upcoming event, there’s also a 28-by-16-foot, high-definition projection screen.

“It’s like being in a movie theater,” he said.

Eventually, the theater will be rented out for professional performances – the kind of comedy acts, concerts and dance shows that are currently held at Merrill Auditorium. But Grant said he won’t start scheduling those until the late summer or fall.

For now, the theater’s kinks will get worked out during school and community performances. But Grant is confident that the a cappella concerts will run smoothly.

“It’s really exciting,” Grant said about having the first event coming up next week – and being able to show off the venue to hundreds of students and parents from all around the area.

“In some ways, it’s kind of the perfect first show for us to do in terms of exposure for the theater,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for more.”

And just as Grant hopes the event will help build the hype around the theater, McKay said she hopes the excitement around the theater will draw more people to the performances.

“We’re really looking for the community to come and support the auditorium,” she said.

Jamie Grant, manager of the new Westbrook Performing Arts Center, stands in the Westbrook Middle School’s 1,000-seat auditorium.