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Posted January 28, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Community rallies around Wayside Theatre

By Josette Keelor

After the announcement three weeks ago that Wayside Theatre might have to close its doors if it cannot raise $90,000 in 90 days, the community has begun to rally around the Middletown theater.

The Wayside Foundation for the Arts Board of Directors hoped for a response, said Artistic Director Warner Crocker, and so far it's been a good one.

"It's been fantastic," he said Friday. "We [have] over 30K in the campaign so far."

But, he added, "We still have a long way to go."

Most of the donations that have come in so far have come from private donations such as from the theater's season ticket subscribers, but an increasing number of donations is coming from fundraisers initiated by community members.

Three of the quickest responses to Wayside's plea for help on Jan. 7 came from local artist Loretta Bailey, whose artwork has been displayed at the theater's Curtain Call Cafe, and from the families of children who have a history with Wayside.

After reading about Wayside's predicament in the newspaper recently, Bailey said Friday, "It really made me think."

"These people need some help," she recalled thinking, "... And one person can't do it by themselves." Having little money to contribute, she decided to donate a painting of hers -- which she named "Lost Highway," after the song by country music star Hank Williams. In it, she depicted Williams' blue Cadillac driving along a country road toward mountains in the distance.

"When they had the Hank Williams play, I was the featured artist," she said, "so I kind of came to know them."

Bailey said her painting was displayed at the Curtain Call during the 2005 production of "Hank Williams: Lost Highway."

"It's not a big deal to donate something," she said, later adding, "Plus, [they need] the moral support that they know that the community is behind them."

Bailey said a date has not yet been set for the fundraiser that will feature her painting.

Mary Buchholz of Winchester said her two daughters and son, 12-year-old triplets Samantha, Abby and Henry, inherited their interest in theater from their grandfather Loring Stevenson, a member of the Actors' Equity Union, who performed most recently in Wayside's 2004 production of "A Christmas Schooner."

"My father is 85 years old, and he lives three blocks away," she said. He has acted most of his life, she said, "and he did his last show at Wayside."

"An old retired actor doesn't have a lot of places to go, and they just embraced him," she said.

Abby, who portrayed Glory in 2011's "Glory Bea: A Shenandoah Christmas Story," said she also was welcomed by Wayside.

"They treat you like family," she said. "They don't put you down. They expect a lot from you, but they give you a lot of respect back."

When she heard about Wayside's troubles, she and her Destination Imagination creative thinking team, Seven Wonders, decided to take action.

"We were just looking online trying to find some ideas," she said. That's when they found a site that prints awareness bracelets that glow in the dark and bear Wayside Theatre's name.

The group has sold bracelets at the Apple Blossom Mall and at Sunday's opening night of the Wayside's play, "Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming," raising about $330 in cash so far.

The group also wrote letters to friends, neighbors and coaches asking for donations and has been spreading the word through Facebook, Buchholz said.

Through their letter-writing campaign, the group has raised over $1,500, Buchholz said.

"They feel pretty good," she said. "Their goal is $1,000, so they've already exceeded it."

Another group raising money for Wayside performed violin music at the Apple Blossom Mall, independently from the Destination Imagination team, which heard about them in advance and decided to piggyback their event while selling bracelets, Buchholz said.

Organized in part by T.C. Welch of Boyce, the group of about 15 young violinists raised $207 at the mall, Welch said.

She said the idea for asking students to do community projects came from her daughter Eleanor's school, Johnson Williams Middle School in Berryville.

Eleanor, 12, wanted to raise money for the theater, her mother said, so they teamed with friend Nick Schwenker and his family. Welch's son Luke, 7, also played violin with the group, and her other daughter Madalyn, 11, made signs.

"They love the theater and the people there," Welch said. "The people there who work with the kids' programs are awesome."

They performed at the theater Sunday night before and after the play but did not raise funds.

Eleanor said she hopes the group will play soon along the walking mall.

"I'm kind of a shy person," she said, "and I only feel completely free when I'm on the stage. And Wayside lets me do that, and I'm really happy, and I don't want to lose that."

Samantha, who also plays violin, said she might try joining the Welch's group now that she knows about it.

"I was never really in a play at Wayside," she said. "I was introduced to it by my grandfather, and they put on such great plays."

"I feel really special whenever I go there," she said. "I would be really upset if they go out of business."

To contact Wayside Theatre, call 869-1776 or visit www.waysidetheatre.org. For more information about Seven Wonders Imagination Destination team, visit http://the-seven-wonders.webs.com/

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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