WILKES-BARRE — Friends of the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre gathered in the lobby of the historic North Main Street venue Friday evening for a Christmas Wine and Wishes reception.
The event kicked off a capital campaign, during which organizers hope to raise $1 million by the theater’s 100th anniversary in 2022.
“It’s the third-oldest theater in the United States. That’s significant,” said Wilkes-Barre City Council member Tony Brooks, who showed his support by attending in costume as General Lord Butler, who was a councilman in the early 1800s and also, an ancestor of Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre Community Board member Cornelia Conyngham Romanowski.
“How many ‘greats’?” Romanowski pondered, as she and Brooks came up with the answer “three.” The historic Butler was her great-great-great-grandfather.
History was a theme at the gathering, as well-wishers reflected on the theater’s many years of existence, the way it can get people talking about new ideas, and the way it can work a kind of “magic,” as even shy people “come alive on the stage.”
“Hopefully it will be here for a long time,” said attorney Tom Mosca, of Dallas, who attended with his wife, Andrea.
The Moscas said they were looking forward to attending Little Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” with their daughter, who would be home on break from law school.
That show would end its run with final performances on Saturday and Sunday, and Little Theatre’s development director Walter Mitchell added to the ambience of the Friday evening reception by sporting an old-fashioned white wig — a la his character, Scrooge’s one-time employer, Fezziwig.
The old theater building needs some renovations and improvements, Mitchell has said, and he envisions it serving in the future not only as a theater but as a place for town meetings and a “reasonably priced, reasonably sized venue for individual artists, for jazz groups and trios, for speakers and open mic nights, for dance recitals, for music teachers that need a place to show what their students have learned.”
He is eager to work toward the $1 million goal by raising $200,000 by the end of 2017, which would bring in a matching $200,000 from an angel benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous.
The dozens of people who showed up on a snowy Friday evening got the project off to a good start by donating $19,253.
“That does not include the match,” Mitchell wrote later, in an email. “Remember, we have an anonymous donor who has offered $200,000 on a dollar-for-dollar match for all funds raised by Dec. 31, 2017 and all pledges received by year’s end and satisfied by July 31, 2018.”
Supporters like Cynthia Post, who attended Friday’s reception, agreed the theater is a worthwhile cause.
“People from all walks of life come together” to put on shows and to watch the shows, Post said. “And they bring children into it. I love that.”
Mitchell vowed earlier this year to devote himself to seeking donations. Individuals who are willing to help may send checks made out to Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre with a notation in the memo line that it is for the campaign.
Checks may be sent to Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, in care of P.O. Box 1, Wilkes-Barre PA 18703.
That low-as-you-can-go box number is not a mistake; it’s an indication of how long Wilkes-Barre’s Little Theatre has been part of the community.
“That’s how old we are,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got the very first post office box.”
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT.