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Staff occupied with last-minute preparations

Say you threw a party and invited 1,252 of your closest friends.

But say you had to build the house first. And install the plumbing. And put in furnishings. And choose a caterer. And hire the entertainment. And finish just about everything else before your 1,252 guests arrived.

It's been like that for the Gallo Center for the Arts. Now, with the grand opening only a day away, the center staff and crew are busying themselves with last-minute details for the festivities and the rest of the opening-week performances. Details like, oh, putting furniture in the artists' dressing rooms.

"Furniture isn't something we've gotten yet. We're looking for couches and comfortable club chairs," Scott DeVine, chief financial officer for the Gallo Center, said of the backstage rooms where artists including Patty LuPone and Tony Bennett will prepare to go onstage.

"I've given a list (of what we need) to a bunch of board trustees who may be able to get some of these things donated. If they can't, I will go looking for (the items) myself."

Other finishing touches include touching up the paint, adjusting the heating and cooling systems, and getting the hot water running.

"The domestic hot water system is too slow, it takes too long to get hot," said Patty Hill Thomas, chief operations officer for Stanislaus County, which owns the center. "We want hot water in the dressing rooms."

It's all in the details

From hot water, ice machines and coffeepots to microwave ovens, full-length mirrors and china teacups, no detail is being overlooked by the center staff. A small army of workers will descend on the center starting at 6 a.m. Thursday after surrounding streets close starting at midnight.

That extra staff includes some 100 volunteers, 60 caterers, 30 valet parking attendants and 20 security officers. Everything, down to where those extra workers will park, the placement of 500 electric votive candles and the arrangement of 2,000 white roses, has been planned.

When asked how long his final to-do list is, DeVine laughed and said, "Too long." His grocery shopping list for the green rooms alone is four pages long. Still, he said, he is confident everything will get done and run smoothly on the big day.

"It feels like everything is in the last stages," he said.

On the day itself, representatives from the building's elevator, heating and cooling companies will be on hand to address any on-the-spot problems. Those involved in the project said they are looking forward to the opening with a mix of excitement and worry. It's like a new-car owner wanting to show off his or her purchase but also fretting about getting that first ding.

"I've always joked that I'm going to carry around paper towels and cleaning products to keep (the center) clean," Hill Thomas said. " 'Anxiety' is a good word; there is a lot of pride in this community about this and we want to take care of it really well."

Still, after more than 2,000 people attended the free public ribbon-cutting ceremony, Hill Thomas said the center and surrounding streets were spotless the next morning. In fact, the biggest surprise so far for the staff has been the public's affectionate reaction to the center.

"The one thing we've found so far is people love the building and it's very difficult to get them out of the building after an event," DeVine said.

Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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