5 Star Story: The Grove at GPAC -- a peaceful place of nature and arts

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 9:46 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - As we continue celebrating the things we love about the Mid-South, the Germantown Performing Arts Center takes center stage as a 5 Star Story with a new outdoor space where you can tap into nature and the arts.

The Grove at GPAC is a state-of-the-art outdoor performance venue to entertain and educate. GPAC managed to raise the $7.5 million needed for the project in a remarkable 19 months, and GPAC officials said construction stayed on schedule too. Then, when it came time to open this past spring -- the pandemic hit.

Despite the change in plans, The Grove at GPAC has become a safe and peaceful respite away from our coronavirus hideaways. Even before you enter the space there’s an invitation.

GPAC Executive Director Paul Chandler explained how the wooden slats on the fence are not only beautiful, but also effective.

“The perimeter, itself, we can’t even call it a fence,” said Chandler. “It is an architectural beauty. It allows air to flow through. It allows people to see through, and give a sense of the activity that’s going on inside.”

One of the first things you might notice upon entering is how your feet glide across the concrete walkway stamped with indigenous moths: The Virgin Tiger Moth and the smaller Grape Leaf.

The public art installation was created by local pottery artist Melissa Bridgeman.

“So, she thought about this space and at nighttime and under the trees. And this public art installation is just at the entryway at the First Horizon Foundation Plaza,” extolled Chandler.

Next, you’ll see the large covered bar with bartenders for beverages or just sitting and watching the show. And, on the far end, the “Music” portion of the night’s activities -- when we were there it was Mid-South musician Josh Threlkeld.

“We’ve experimented with a couple of concepts. The one that has taken us through June and July, here in The Grove, is what we call ‘Music and Movies,’” said Chandler, adding that for an hour before the “Movie” feature, GPAC invites Mid-South musician duo’s or singles to the First Horizon Plaza to begin the night.

It doesn’t take long to realize how The Grove got its name.

According to Chandler, employees began calling the space The Grove even before it was a concept because of the grove of trees in the middle of the space that provide shade and beauty. And white plastic circles in the Tru Green Lawn make social distancing easy and still leaves plenty of room for guests to spread out and get a great view of the performance onstage.

”And then folks come with their folding chairs -- they socially distance,” said Chandler.

There’s also a covered VIP area with tables and chairs at the ready.

If you get hungry, there’s also a locally owned food truck on hand, ready and willing to take your order but you’re also welcome to bring your own cooler with drinks and food, if you prefer. There are also free water stations.

As for the “Movie” portion of the night, you can clearly see the DakTronic video wall -- a giant 18′ by 31.2′ extremely high-definition video screen -- on Duncan Williams Asset Management stage, whether it’s noon or midnight.

“It is kind of one of a kind,” said Chandler.

The screen is mounted on a trolley, allowing for it to be moved upstage and “become” the performance or downstage to assist or enhance a performance. All types of performances are possible — theater, dance, orchestras and every genre of music.

“We also installed, as part of this project, eight remote-controlled cameras inside the Duncan Williams Performance Hall so that we can broadcast a concert or a performance that’s inside, outside,” said Chandler. “So imagine Iris Orchestra inside performing and everybody’s in their jacket and tie. It’s in the evening or it’s a matinee.”

Perfect for families with small children who, Chandler said, are free to roll around on the grass outside while their parents enjoy the performance.

The Grove’s park-like setting can accommodate up to 1,200 guests but, for now, the guest list is intentionally much smaller and still a welcome change from the day-in-day-out stress of the pandemic.

“Right now, in this COVID era, it is a peaceful place. It is a place to feel like you’re being entertained, see others, talk to others -- to experience performing art that is not an old recording on your Netflix. But, it’s outside, under this grove of trees,” exclaimed Chandler. “We started at 10 and then, 25, 50, 75, so, we’re growing methodically and carefully. So, we won’t go to 300 until we’re ready -- until the community’s ready -- we want it to be safe. We’re certain that it is safe here and Mayor Palazzolo, the mayor of Germantown said, ‘You know Paul, The Grove is going to be a big part of reopening our community so, get to it.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”

The “Movie and Music” series runs on Saturday night through the month of August, starting at 6 p.m.

You can purchase your tickets online at gpacweb.com, by calling the box office: (901)752-7500 Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. or you may purchase your tickets at the box office each night.

There are also morning Yoga and spin classes at The Grove. Contact the GPAC for information about those classes.

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