World-Class Lafon Performing Arts Center Attracts Audiences and Artists – L’Observateur
LULING – You don’t have to travel to New York or even the Saenger Theater in New Orleans to find world-class performances. Incredible artistic experiences from around the corner to around the world await the River Parishes community at the Rodney R. Lafon Performing Arts Center in Luling.
Located at 275 Judge Edward Dufresne Pkwy., The Lafon Center has a star-studded season of music, dance and theater performances scheduled for Spring 2022. Highlights include a tribute to classic rock band Whitney Houston, a show children’s interactive show featuring life-size dinosaur puppets and a shadow dance company fresh from their New York Broadway premiere.
The center is named after the former Superintendent of St. Charles Parish, Dr. Rodney R. Lafon, who dreamed of building a performing arts center for public school students in St. Charles Parish. The Lafon Center opened in the fall of 2018, four years after Dr. Lafon passed away in 2014. According to director Chris Melohn, the Lafon Center operates as a non-profit organization, allowing ticket sales to support Dr. Lafon’s dream of providing artistic experiences and educational training for young people.
“These shows support student programming. Purchased tickets allow students to see these performances during the day,” Melohn said. “K-12, you’ll get 13 years of these free performances. One of the goals of the program is not only to expose children to new artistic experiences and hopefully get them excited or wanting to become artists themselves, but also to ensure that these students eventually become patrons of local theaters. We build audiences as well as artists.
The “Artsperiences” allow public school students to see performances and participate in interactive question and answer sessions with the guest artist. All 15 public schools in the parish of St. Charles use the center as a performance and rehearsal venue for theater, choir and orchestra performances. The center’s flexible space has also been used to house art galleries and exhibitions of senior projects.
“Our own children produce and perform on the same stages as internationally renowned professional artists. It’s a really cool experience for all of them,” Melohn said.
The building’s unique features include a flexible black-box theater space, a dance studio, and an educational wing containing a piano lab and television studio. Technical theater production, digital media and interactive media are some of the courses taught on site.
Brianne Robichaux, a sophomore at Destrehan High School, used the Lafon Center not only for her talented choir and theater performances, but also as a practice space for her dance team as the school district recovered from the hurricane Ida.
“It’s a place to go to get away from stress. It’s something fun to do in school and it gives you a new experience,” Robichaux said.
The Lafon Center has also received support from the local business community. The center’s 1,304-seat Shell Theater was named after the Shell Norco refinery after the company presented a $5 million donation to create an endowment for the performing arts center.
The bequest is part of Shell’s regional identity campaign, “Creative Energy…The Rhythm of Louisiana,” which celebrates the food, music, visual and performing arts that shape local culture.
Brett Woltien, managing director of the Shell Norco refinery when the Lafon Center opened in 2018, said the legacy donation represented the company’s belief in the importance of education. While STEM is crucial to the future, Woltien said the arts elevate education by cultivating a world of creative energy, which in turn drives South Louisiana culture.
The development of social culture is part of the Lafon Center’s mission. According to Melohn, exposure to the arts not only benefits local students, but also the public.
“We tend to put our blinders on about moving throughout the day, not being challenged or thinking beyond our routines. The idea of live performances and art exposes people to other experiences outside of their own and also allows them to think and reflect on their other experiences. We need it more than ever,” Melohn said.
He added, “Mental health is a huge crisis after going through COVID, and especially after our exposure to the aftermath of the hurricane. I think it can be not only an escape, but also a way to access emotions that we can hold on to or repress during the difficult times we face as a culture and as a community.
The Center des Arts du Spectacle Lafon offers subscriptions for the 2022 Performance Season as well as the PALSS Children’s Theater, offering entertainment for the whole family.
According to Melohn, tickets for the next three children’s shows are $30 total versus $15 individually. Season passes are also still available for mainline shows.
“The first show has already passed, but it’s a big enough discount that if you subscribe to the remaining five shows rather than buying tickets individually, you’ll still save money,” Melohn said.
The following programs are scheduled from the end of January to March:
- The Adventures of Tortoise & Hare: Next Gen – January 29, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
This story follows the children of the slow and steady tortoise and the overconfident hare as they deal with the distractions of modern times. Set in a darkened room, the production tells a story entirely through light and movement in a dazzling visual display.
- Greatest Love of All: A Tribute to Whitney Houston – February 18, 7:30 p.m.
Chart-topping South African artist Belinda Davids has a surprisingly similar voice to the late great Whitney Houston. This critically acclaimed chow brings Houston’s musical heritage to life with the accompaniment of a live band, backing vocals and choreographed dancers.
- Dinosaur World Live – March 6, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Life-size dinosaur puppets arrive on stage at the Lafon Center from London. A paleontologist introduces children to the ancient wonders that once roamed the earth during this interactive show.
- The Hit Men: Classic Rock Supergroup – March 12 – 7:30 p.m.
Audiences can relive rock’s greatest hits with The Hit Men, a touring band that has performed with legendary artists such as Journey, Styx, The Who and many more.
- Catapult – March 27, 3 p.m.
As seen on America’s Got Talent, Catapult is a shadow dance company that works behind screens to create shapes and tell stories through silhouettes. The band recently premiered “Magic Shadows” on Broadway.
For more information on the 2022 season or to purchase tickets, visit Lafonartscenter.org. The box office can be contacted at 985-331-3670.