The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 17, 2014

Community brainstorms to resurrect Theatre West Virginia

BECKLEY — “I’m thankful to see I’m not by myself on this,” Scott Hill said to a crowd of approximately 50 people who met Thursday evening at Tamarack to discuss Theatre West Virginia Act II.

“We’re paddling against a major current, but it’s nice to see there are several people holding oars.”

The major focus of the meeting was the importance of fundraising and volunteering.

“In order for it to continue, the community has to be ready to step up and support it.”

Hill said United Bank has already stepped up to help find an office space for the theater and the University of Charleston-Beckley has already offered space for the actors training academy.

Local attorney Steven New plans to donate some of his television commercial time slots through Suddenlink to TWV.

New also suggested the theater set up a donation campaign through texting, which he said he believes would generate a lot of funds.

Former TWV general manager Gayle Bowling agreed, as she said there are theater alumni all over the country.

Neal and Helen Lacey, who worked as house manager and concessions manager, respectively, attended the meeting and they said they were very encouraged by the discussion.

“We worked there for 25 years,” Neal said. “Every summer since 1989.”

He said they were shocked and upset when the theater announced its closure last September, but ever since that announcement they had hoped someone would step in and revive it.

“The theater had a near death experience a couple years ago. This time we saw a death of the theater and now a resurrection.”

Neal said they were joyful and relieved when Hill called them to let them know about his plans.

“It’s very encouraging when Scott gets behind something. Everybody knows about it. He has the energy, the drive and the contacts needed to get this thing going.”

Terri Riffle and her 12-year-old son Griffin Aliff also attended the meeting, as Griffin has an interest in performing arts.

Griffin, a student at Shady Spring Middle School, said he sees people on television all the time and notices how young they are.

“If they can do it, so can I,” Griffin said.

He said he would enjoy seeing a Willy Wonka performance, but also has an interest in the historical dramas.

“We go to at least one show every season,” his mom said.

During the discussion, she suggested that prior to the main TWV performances, kids perform a skit and offer to sell DVD recordings to the parents to help raise money.

Griffin expressed interest in attending the training academy, which Hill said he plans to continue this spring.

“Through the training academy we want to continue educating the youth,” Hill said. “There are many young men and women whose careers have been furthered because of TWV.”

Liberty High School theater teacher Jeremy Rodriguez said TWV needs to have a presence in schools, starting at the elementary level. “We need to be at elementary schools talking to them about theater and acting. If the students are interested in the arts, we will recruit parents to be patrons of the arts.”

He also offered his help and the help of his students to put together actor testimonials and lengthier advertisements for the TWV website, theatrewestvirginia.com.

One attendee asked Hill what his plans are to ensure the same level of quality that people have come to know with TWV.

Hill said he has consulted with Marina Hunley, who was the artistic director at TWV for years. She prepared a budget for him and he said money will not be cut from the shows.

Management will be different than before, with more of a focus on volunteering than paid staff.

As for a governing body, Hill said a new board of directors will be selected; seven people will sit on the executive board and 21 will be part of an advisory board.

He said he took this model from local successful nonprofit organizations, like the United Way.

Hill said he had taken a hint that some of the TWV productions were a bit lengthy, so he wants to try to have the show started by 8 p.m. and the crowd out by 10 p.m.

Someone also suggested that if the show has a longer run time, to have earlier curtain times.

Bowling said some special effects cannot be done until dark though.

Hill had initially suggested having shows Thursday through Sunday, but someone suggested Wednesday through Saturday instead because Sunday was a weak sales night.

Wednesday would also be better for the out-of-town crowd, one attendee suggested, because many people are heading back home on Sunday.

A former TWV actor also suggested broadening the types of performances to include Shakespearean plays, workshops and original plays.

Councilman Tom Sopher said smaller scale fundraisers should also be considered, such as car window stickers that say “I Support Theatre West Virginia,” which would also serve as a promotional tool.

KickStarter and foundation grants were also two other fundraising ideas mentioned.

For more information or to find out how you can help, contact Scott Hill at 540-580-3908.

— E-mail: wholdren@register-herald.com

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