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SUB deals with leaks, glitches

Marcela Berrios | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

As his song goes, Ben Folds’ audience at his sold-out show Friday could have simply said “give me my money back” when multiple leaks sprung in the Stepan Center ceiling during the performance.

“Anybody who was at the concert could see there was [rain] water dripping constantly over the stage and all throughout the place,” said SUB Board manager Patrick Vassel.

He said one of his main areas of concern was the leak located directly above the left side of the stage, where some sensitive sound equipment was located.

Vassel said SUB organizers used 10-foot pop-up tents and plastic bags to cover soundboards and computers that could not afford to get wet. “Constant mopping” took care of some of the puddles that formed backstage as the rain kept coming down throughout the night.

Rumors circulated after the concert that even Folds felt a few raindrops fall on his head.

“Yes, [Folds] might’ve gotten wet,” Vassel said.

But that didn’t stop the show from going on.

“[Folds] and all of his people were very professional – and although they all had something to say about the leaks – they were very cooperative and helped us handle all the challenges that came up,” Vassel said.

Such challenges also included the onstage breakdown of a piano that was not set up properly by the SUB’s production company and volunteers.

Vassel said a pedal was not entirely tightened, causing a part of the piano to come off while Folds was performing. The mistake was quickly corrected without disturbing the program.

If Folds was upset by these shortcomings, he hid it well, remaining good-humored throughout the evening, Vassel said.

He lightheartedly referred to the Stepan Center as a “geodesic dome” at various points during the concert.

“There are some areas in the building that are barely held together,” Vassel said.

He said there was one particular leak directly over the back of the stage that was bigger than all the rest, but it didn’t interfere with Folds’ performance because there were only three musicians playing – and they were conveniently positioned closer to the audience.

“There were puddles right behind the drummer,” Vassel said.

However, SUB organizers were prepared for the possibility of rain and leakage, as they received a map of the venue prior to the show depicting all the known leaks and cracks in the ceiling, which have been there for a number of years.

Vassel recalled the 2003 Everclear concert in the Stepan Center, when the band almost refused to play because there were leaks throughout the venue.

Earlier this year, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves announced at a Student Senate meeting the University’s plans to construct a new venue on the site of the Stepan Center.

“Imagine writing an exam when it doesn’t rain on your paper,” he said.

Similarly, Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman included renovations to both the Stepan Center – which was built in 1962 – and the LaFortune Student Center as “priorities” in Notre Dame’s campus expansion in the coming years.

While serious ideas about replacing the Stepan Center have been tossed around since 2003 – when former University President Father Edward Malloy first announced his “Notre Dame 2010: Fulfilling the Promise” strategy proposal – the project had yet to move past the early development stages when Folds performed.

Poorman said in 2005 that he expected to have “a very preliminary rendering of what the building might look like” soon, but no major announcement regarding the new student activities center were made after his statement.

Vassel said he believes the Stepan renovations had been postponed for years partly because the venue is utilized sporadically every semester and filled to its maximum capacity at most a handful of times every year.

“The building is rarely used,” he said. “It’s not like you have the place packed every weekend.”

Last year, the only times when the Stepan Center was completely filled were during two SUB productions – Vince Vaughn’s comedy show and the Pat Green concert.

“It’s kind of ridiculous to have a sold-out concert at the University of Notre Dame and a great artist like Ben Folds, and then picking a venue that is leaking all over, but the only other place on campus that can seat more than 1,000 people is the Joyce Center, and we didn’t have the budget to rent it,” Vassel said. “In these cases, sometimes you just have to go with what you have if you really want to bring the artist to the students.”

Students, too, noticed the leaks and some were embarrassed about Folds’ recognition of the problem.

“While he made jokes about it and had the entire audience laughing about it, that’s not the kind of thing you would expect from a university like Notre Dame,” junior Alejandra Diaz-Calderon said.

Some students were optimistic and recognized that the situation could have been worse.

“At least the concert wasn’t outside,” sophomore Tony Piskurich said.

Despite these shortcomings, Vassel said Folds’ concert was the “smoothest” event in his experience because all the glitches encountered were quickly addressed and fixed.