Get 2 the Point: Maria Van Laanen leads Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

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(WBAY) -

The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is about to kick off its new season in a big way next week--with the Wisconsin premiere of the musical "Hamilton."

It leads off a busy year for the PAC, which not only brings in Broadway shows but also stage plays, musical acts, family programming and community collaborations. The team over at the PAC is led by Maria Van Laanen. She was the second person hired by the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center back in 2001, when the building was still a hole in the ground.

Van Laanen has come up through the ranks to become President of the PAC, a job that she appeared to be destined for while growing up in the Green Bay area. As a child, music was always a refuge for Van Laanen. Opportunity came knocking her freshman year of college at U.W.-Whitewater when she was discouraged by the line of applicants for the job at the local child care center. In a panic, she went to the music building on campus.

“I needed a place to think, to regroup, to calm myself, and it was while I was roaming the halls of the music building that I came across an opportunity to work for what basically was their theater program there at the college, and that changed the course of my life.”

Van Laanen went on to help with a newly constructed theater at U.W.-Whitewater. She transferred back to U.W.-Green Bay to finish her degree and found work at the Weidner Center. Her career after college took her to Minneapolis, where she worked to book shows across the country. When the opportunity to join the under-construction PAC came up in 2001, Van Laanen made the move back to Northeast Wisconsin and started right away booking shows for the opening season.

“We were flying to New York and saying, ‘We’re building this theater,’” Van Laanen recalls. “We were pitching this idea of ‘believe us, the arts are so strong in this community. It is going to be outstanding.’ But we always had to bring a map with us.”

In this week’s Get 2 the Point podcast, hear more from Maria Van Laanen, including her passion for bring arts to everyone in the community.

Mother of Mercy Hall. The new prayer and events center was built in 2019 and can seat up to 1,200 people (WBAY photo)