As Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum marks its 30th anniversary this year, there’s been much to appreciate about the multi-purpose building. It has a great sound system and sightlines. The entertainment is big time and varied—Broadway shows (Jesus Christ Superstar, 1988) to Cougar basketball games and crafts and job fairs. One wonders how the University managed before the $8 million facility opened for commencement in 1973.
Capacity is 12,000, or 4,700 in a mini-arena configuration, and 2,500 in the theatre at the coliseum’s west end. Basketball made its debut in Beasley in 1973, and George Raveling’s 1982-83 Cougars (23-7) went undefeated in the coliseum.
Comedians, including Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, and George Burns, have always been popular on WSU Mom’s and Dad’s Weekends. Bill Cosby drew 10,000 in 2002. This fall Jay Leno returned for the third time.
Campus security was never tighter than for Walter F. Mondale’s January 1978 visit. Secret Service agents arrived days earlier with a bomb-sniffing dog to check out the coliseum.
When a portable stage failed to arrive for Earth Wind & Fire’s 1979 performance, one was quickly fashioned from footlockers on loan from Army ROTC. The show went on. Garth Brooks sold out back-to-back performances in late August 1993.
The annual Edward R. Murrow Symposium has been a fixture in the coliseum theater, an opportunity for WSU to honor some of the top print and broadcast journalists. Elaborate decorations have also transformed part of the coliseum into a ballroom for the WSU Foundation Gala Recognition Dinner.
“We’re booked 150 days a year,” says coliseum director Leo Udy, who succeeded 25-year director Jim Crow. “People in the industry know we can do the big shows.”
Past performers include Anne Murray, Stevie Wonder, Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Dionne Warwick, Gordon Lightfoot, Wynonna, and Tim McGraw. The Beach Boys, Huey Lewis and the News, and the Steve Miller Band also have left their mark, along with illusionist David Copperfield and speakers Cesar Chavez, Helen Caldecott, and Ralph Nader.
Udy and an ASWSU entertainment subcommittee work together to identify acts. In a 2002 survey, 250 students responded with 160 different possibilities. In overseeing a 2003-04 budget of around $500,000, Udy takes into account three factors: What are people interested in? Can the coliseum afford it? Is the act/performer available?
“We’re kind of a hidden commodity—a town of 26,000, with 100,000 people living within 30 miles,” Udy says. “A lot of entertainers don’t know where Pullman is, but when they come they are pleasantly surprised by the town, campus, and coliseum.”