The real-life drama surrounding the area’s KISS Theatre Co. soon could come to a welcome and, hopefully, anticlimactic end.
The children’s acting troupe, recipient earlier this month of a 90-day eviction notice from the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre Township, where it had occupied a former movie theater complex since 2009, faced the prospect of becoming homeless and potentially defunct. Or at least disrupted, getting bounced this year from place to place, á la Little Orphan Annie.
Instead, it appears the young performers have found a benefactor.
Cast in a Daddy Warbucks-like role is Joe Amato, former professional dragster driver turned Luzerne County real estate mogul.
He apparently heard multiple pleas for help from the theater’s boosters and has offered to lease the nonprofit group space in his newly acquired East End Centre, a shopping center formerly home to anchor tenant Beiter’s Home Center. A portion of that vacant building could accommodate the group and all its props, Amato said Wednesday. “Unless they find a better home, we’re going to work something out,” he said.
One immediate hurdle: Raising money to pay for building renovations and moving expenses. Regardless of whether Amato’s arrangement ultimately works for the young actors, certain astute people in this community clearly intend for KISS Theatre’s shows to go on.
Walter Mitchell, general manager of the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre and a former KISS board member, already pledged the use of Little Theatre’s facility this summer, if needed, for the youths’ productions.
Separately, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, drafted a letter to the mall’s ownership asking it to reconsider the eviction decision. “It is so important to make sure we support groups like KISS Theatre,” she wrote, “which provide a safe place for our children to learn, socialize and grow.”
About 500 children and teens currently participate in the program, according to organizers of KISS, short for Kids Innovating Stage & Sound. A handful of full- and part-time employees, including a producing artistic director, help to stage shows such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Grease,” the group’s website states. They do a dozen or more shows each year.
Participants, their parents and grandparents, many of them perplexed and disappointed by the program’s being set adrift, started a letter-writing campaign. Their appreciation of the program resounded. Self-described “educator” and “KISS Theatre parent” Robert Hines, of Fairview Township, wrote: “KISS Theatre has just received the ARC Award for their work with children with disabilities, following the philosophy of the theater’s artistic director - Christa Manning - that no child will be denied an experience in the arts.”
Young people in Luzerne County need more, not fewer, safe and productive activities during non-school hours. They need more, not less, exposure to the arts, including theater and dance.
Thankfully, enough area residents recognize this program’s importance that it seems certain the sun’ll come out tomorrow, and KISS Theatre Co. will hang on, come what may.