Children's theater officials hope fundraiser an SRO hit

WILTON – Andy’s Summer Playhouse has been a fixture in Wilton Center since 1985, providing theater experiences of many kinds to the local young people, but its support structure of grants, donations and student tuitions are drying up in the current economy.

“We need $20,000 by the first of the year to carry us through to summer, or we’ll have to close the doors,” said Technical Director Mark Haley. “Even with that money, there is still maintenance to do on the building.”

A recent gala fundraiser was postponed by the ice storm, and has been rescheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m., at the Peterborough Town House.

Tickets are $10 for ages 3-12 and $20 for adults, and can be purchased at Toadstool Bookshops in Milford and Peterborough, Moulton’s Market in Amherst, Steele’s Stationery in Peterborough, or on the Andy’s Web site, www.andyssummerplayhouse.org.

For those who have tickets and cannot attend the new date, refunds are available.

“The gala will be a presentation of work by past Andy’s students,” Haley said. “We’ll be showcasing the works of Andy’s Kids. The idea is to show people how important Andy’s is.”

Andy’s was founded in Mason 38 years ago. It serves children in southern New Hampshire from Nashua to Keene to Concord, as well as northern Massachusetts. Its Web site said the programs seek to foster creative collaborations between children and professional artists who work in everything from performance art, theater and dance, to music, puppetry and video, and even set design and playwriting.

Over the years, Andy’s has grown from a summer play produced by two school teachers, to its current state as a fully equipped summer theater, with a staff of over 30 professional artists, involving more than 250 children and more than 3,000 audience members each year.

The current facility, a former Grange Hall in Old Wilton Center, is a theater that can accommodate approximately 125 audience members.

Board member Matt Gelbwaks said the problem the theater faces stems from the downturn in the economy, as well as the changing lifestyles of the families that have always participated in the programs.

“When we started, a lot of the mothers stayed home and didn’t mind driving the kids to Wilton. Now, if there isn’t something for the younger kids to do all day, they don’t come,” he said.

“We find that we are a niche,” Gelbwaks said. “People pigeonhole us as children’s theater. When the belts get tightened, the first things to go are the arts. Theater is a major component, but not the biggest.”

“(Our participants), by becoming part of something bigger, they learn to interact with other people, with adults. They learn how to carry themselves in the bigger world,” he added. “That is what they come back and tell us was the most important thing they learned.”

The theater’s problem now, he said, “is to get the state, the companies, to recognize that we are more than theater. We have worked with the community, with the banks, to put together grants and scholarships . . . but we’ve maxed out our debt vehicles.”

Two other problems have arisen, he added. The state Council on the Arts is “redesigning their grant program, so there will be no grant this summer.”

In addition, long-time director Bob Lawson has resigned to move into other areas.

“We are in a state of transition,” Gelbwaks said.

So Andy’s is making a general appeal to the community. “Every little bit helps,” Gelbwaks said.

Jessie Salisbury can be reached at 654-9704 or jessies@tellink.net. Milford and Peterborough, Moulton’s Market in Amherst, Steele’s Stationery in Peterborough, or on the Andy’s Web site, www.andyssummerplayhouse.org.

For those who have tickets and cannot attend the new date, refunds are available.

“The gala will be a presentation of work by past Andy’s students,” Haley said. “We’ll be showcasing the works of Andy’s Kids. The idea is to show people how important Andy’s is.”

Andy’s was founded in Mason 38 years ago. It serves children in southern New Hampshire from Nashua to Keene to Concord, as well as northern Massachusetts. Its Web site said the programs seek to foster creative collaborations between children and professional artists who work in everything from performance art, theater and dance, to music, puppetry and video, and even set design and playwriting.

Over the years, Andy’s has grown from a summer play produced by two school teachers, to its current state as a fully equipped summer theater, with a staff of over 30 professional artists, involving more than 250 children and more than 3,000 audience members each year.

The current facility, a former Grange Hall in Old Wilton Center, is a theater that can accommodate approximately 125 audience members.

Board member Matt Gelbwaks said the problem the theater faces stems from the downturn in the economy, as well as the changing lifestyles of the families that have always participated in the programs.

“When we started, a lot of the mothers stayed home and didn’t mind driving the kids to Wilton. Now, if there isn’t something for the younger kids to do all day, they don’t come,” he said.

“We find that we are a niche,” Gelbwaks said. “People pigeonhole us as children’s theater. When the belts get tightened, the first things to go are the arts. Theater is a major component, but not the biggest.”

“(Our participants), by becoming part of something bigger, they learn to interact with other people, with adults. They learn how to carry themselves in the bigger world,” he added. “That is what they come back and tell us was the most important thing they learned.”

The theater’s problem now, he said, “is to get the state, the companies, to recognize that we are more than theater. We have worked with the community, with the banks, to put together grants and scholarships . . . but we’ve maxed out our debt vehicles.”

Two other problems have arisen, he added. The state Council on the Arts is “redesigning their grant program, so there will be no grant this summer.”

In addition, long-time director Bob Lawson has resigned to move into other areas.

“We are in a state of transition,” Gelbwaks said.

So Andy’s is making a general appeal to the community. “Every little bit helps,” Gelbwaks said.