World-class Lafon Performing Arts Center builds audiences & artists

Published 4:56 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

LULING — There’s no need to travel to New York City or even the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans to find world-class live entertainment. Incredible art experiences from around the corner to around the globe 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 planned for Spring 2022. Highlights include a Whitney Houston tribute, a classic rock group, an interactive children’s show featuring life-size dinosaur puppets, and a shadow dance company fresh off their New York Broadway premiere.

The Center is named after former St. Charles Parish Superintendent Dr. Rodney R. Lafon, who had a dream to build a performing arts center for the students of St. Charles Parish Public Schools. The Lafon Center opened in Fall 2018, four years after Dr. Lafon passed away in 2014. According to Director Chris Melohn, the Lafon Center operates as a nonprofit, allowing ticket sales to support Dr. Lafon’s dream of providing artistic experiences and educational training for the youth.

“These shows support student programming. Purchased tickets go towards students being able to see those performances during the day,” Melohn said. “From PreK through 12th grade, you’ll have 13 years of these free performances. One of the goals for the program is not only for kids to be exposed to new art experiences and hopefully get excited or want to become artists themselves, but also to have those students eventually become the patrons at local theaters. We are building audiences as well as artists.”

“Artsperiences” allow public school students to view performances and engage in interactive question and answer sessions with the visiting artist. All 15 public schools in St. Charles Parish utilize the center as a performance and rehearsal venue for theater, choir and band performances. The center’s flexible space has also been used to house art galleries and senior project displays.

“Our own kids are producing and performing on the same performance stages as internationally acclaimed professional artists. It’s a really cool experience for all of them,” Melohn said.

Unique features of the building include a flexible black box theater space, a dance studio, and an education wing containing a piano lab and a television studio. Technical theater production, digital media and interactive media are among the courses taught on-site.

Destrehan High School sophomore Brianne Robichaux has utilized the Lafon Center not only for her choir and talented drama performances, but also as a practice space for her dance team as the school district recovered from Hurricane Ida.

“It’s a place you can go to get away from stress. It’s something fun to do at 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 Theatre was named after the Shell Norco Refinery after the company presented a $5 million legacy gift to create an endowment for the performing arts center.

The legacy gift aligned with Shell’s regional identity campaign, “Creative Energy…The Rhythm of Louisiana,” which celebrates the food, music, and visual and performing arts that shape local culture.

Brett Woltien, general manager of the Shell Norco Refinery at the time the Lafon Center opened in 2018, said the legacy gift 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 the culture of South Louisiana.

Expanding the social culture is part of the Lafon Center’s mission statement. According to Melohn, exposure to the arts benefits not only local students, but also the viewing public.

“We tend to put our blinders on moving through 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 about and reflect on their other experiences. We need that now 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 that it can be not only an escape, but also a way of accessing emotions that we may be holding on to or bottling up during difficult times that we need to address as a culture and as a community.”

The Lafon Performing Arts Center offers season passes for the 2022 Season of Shows as well as the PALSS Children’s Theatre, providing entertainment for the whole family.

According to Melohn, tickets for the three upcoming children’s shows are $30 all together versus $15 individually. Season subscriptions are also still available for the main shows.

“The first show has already passed, but it’s a deep enough discount to where if you get a subscription for the five remaining shows rather than buying tickets individually, you would still save money,” Melohn said.

The following programs are scheduled from the end of January through March:

  • The Adventures of Tortoise & Hare: Next Gen – Jan. 29, 10 a.m. & 1 p.m.

This story follows the children of the slow and steady Tortoise and the overconfident Hare as they face modern-day distractions. Set in a darkened room, the production tells a story entirely though light and movement in a dazzling visual display.

  • The Greatest Love of All: A Tribute to Whitney Houston – Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.

Chart-topping South African artist Belinda Davids has a voice strikingly similar to the late great Whitney Houston. This critically-acclaimed chow brings Houston’s musical legacy 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.

Lifesize dinosaur puppets are coming to The Lafon Center stage all the way from London. A paleontologist introduces children to the ancient wonders who 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 group of touring musicians who have performed with legendary artists including Journey, Styx, The Who and 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 group recently premiered “Magic Shadows” on Broadway.

 

For more information about the 2022 season or to purchase tickets, visit Lafonartscenter.org. The Box Office can be reached at 985-331-3670.