By Jenny Neyman
In many respects, last weekend constituted a typical moving scene — friends with trucks, healthy backs and teenagers were called into service, pizza was ordered, furniture was heaved and hoed, and boxes and bins and bags and crates holding the detritus that accumulates from nearly 10 years in a space were shuttled to their new location, to be deposited — “Um, I guess over there, for now.”
Look a little closer at the content of some of the bins and boxes, and the larger items being loaded onto trailers and truck beds, however, and it became immediately clear this was no ordinary house move.
Into the moving truck went a couch, shelving unit, tables, chairs and a piano, followed by an 8-foot tree trunk sculpted out of Styrofoam, a 4-by-3-foot box painted to replicate a 1950s-era package of Betty Crocker cake mix, and two 3-foot-high fake tombstones, which read, “Here lies the Pillsbury Doughboy. He will rise again;” and, “In memory of Anna Hopewell. Here lies the body of our Anna, done to death by a banana, it wasn’t the fruit that laid her low, but the skin of the thing that made her go.”
A conveyor of movers hauled clothes up the stairs, one packing staid men’s suit coats and pants, followed by another with an armload of formal dresses so frilly, poofy and neon-tastic that they’d have been overkill at even a 1980s prom.
Plastic totes and cardboard boxes were amongst the first loads to make the move, and ended up stacked in rows lining the
walls of the new location, with contents written in marker on masking tape: “Lingerie,” “Lovely Lingerie,” “Cheesy tiaras,” “Household décor stitchery/framed,” “Bundles of wheat,” “Bloomers and pantaloons” and “Wooden thingamajigs.”
Yet even the oddest oddities weren’t out of place in this situation. Had this been a regular house move, the row of children’s hobby horses, the rack full of scraps and rags sewn together into peasant clothing, and an entire plastic bin holding nothing but poodle socks may have been indicative of some sort of psychiatric condition worthy of an episode of the TV show “Hoarders.”
But for the Kenai Performers, it was merely the evidence of 40 years of community theater being packed up and moved from the organization’s rented home for the past nearly 10 years, the Old Town Playhouse near the chamber of commerce cabin in Kenai, to its newly purchased home, formerly the Hall Quality Builders shop and office on First Avenue behind the Swanson Square building housing Katina’s Restaurant and Sharp’s Billiards in Kenai.
The move is the culmination of a 10-month process to secure financing through the USDA Rural Development program; complete the necessary permits, insurance and other “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed details of paperwork; and work with the building’s previous owner, Clint Hall of Hall Quality Builders, to complete renovations necessary for occupancy.
But the effort to find and purchase a permanent home for the Kenai Performers has been a much longer time coming. The group’s 40-year history in Kenai has been an itinerant one, shuffling between various rehearsal, performance and storage spaces whenever and wherever available.
“All of our props, costumes and set-construction materials have always been in our garages and crawl spaces and cars,” said Chris Cook, executive director of the Kenai Performers.
“We had a big shed for a while,” added Marc Berezin, treasurer on the board of directors.
“Yeah, and a little storage unit,” Cook said. “But, logistically, it’s been a bit trying, so this is going to be lovely to have one central area to store everything in.”
Cook said the organization concluded that owning its own facility would foster financial security and long-term sustainability, as well as create opportunities for future growth.
“It’s a culmination of 40-plus years of effort to actually have a permanent home, to have a base from which we can grow and make choices and decisions that encompass the entire creative community on the Southcentral peninsula,” she said. “It goes to our whole vision of becoming the creative umbrella for other arts groups and individuals in this area, now that we have the infrastructure in place.”
But achieving that goal proved to be a challenging, long-time-coming task.
Carol Ford, director of many shows with the Kenai Performers, spent years checking out buildings for sale, Cook said, and the board of directors considered several options, but none seemed to fit the bill: Too expensive, too small, too many renovations needed, etc.
Last winter, the stars seemed to align into a spotlight on the Hall building. The Curtain Call Consignment Boutique, now in its second year of selling high-end, designer and vintage clothing, shoes and accessories as a fundraiser for the theater organization, was doing consistent enough business to give the board confidence in making regular mortgage payments. Financing available to nonprofits through the Rural Development program provided an opportunity to secure funds to purchase a large, commercial building. And many in the Kenai Performers family of supporters were willing to lend their expertise to the project, including Realtor Kelly Keating-Griebel, architect Peter Klauder and attorney Jim Butler.
The purchase became official last week and moving kicked into overdrive on Saturday and Sunday, though Cook said that
countless hours of pre-moving preparations had already been happening behind the scenes, with longtime Kenai Performers volunteer Rita Eddy leading the organization process.
The new building is smaller than the Old Town Playhouse, necessitating a bin purge of much that’s accumulated over the years. In theater, it’s the ends of the spectrum that are retained — nondescript housewares, furniture, set units and costumes that are used again and again, and the difficult-to-duplicate items that aren’t used as often but would be hard to find when they are needed. Everything in between comes and goes from show to show in a constant recycling, reimagining and reinvention of materials.
“By having a smaller area we are forced to look at what we have, decide those things that we consider valuable and why,” said Sharon Fisher, costumer and a past board member with the Kenai Performers. “One reason we keep them is they are unusual — they’re hard to duplicate, and we don’t want to get rid of the dragon costume, or whatever. And one of the things that we have used over and over and over was the cheapest thing we ever made — the peasant costumes. They are so valuable because we know we’re going to use it.”
Though the downsizing, organizing and moving project has been a massive undertaking, Fisher said the process has also been fun, since sorting through rows of costumes evokes a trip down memory lane.
“One of my favorite costumes was the baseball hat used for Scarecrow in ‘The Wiz,’” she said. “One of my other favorite costumes was the ugliest thing you can imagine. It was a dress that Grandma Tzeitel wore in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ I made the dress and I apologized to the woman who was going to wear it. I said, ‘Don’t kill me, but I want to try this.’ Under the right lighting it was exquisitely perfect — it was hideous. Those kinds of costumes are the really fun ones.”
To start with, the building will house Curtain Call, which will continue its regular business hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays after re-opening this week on Saturday. Consignment boutique volunteers are looking forward to having a more boutiquelike space, with walls that can be painted and doors that can be shut to separate it from the theater’s operations, said Judy Imholte, s Curtain Call volunteer.
“We are very excited to have a new space that’s separate and quiet. We’re looking forward to not sharing with the sawdust and the tools and theater equipment. I think it was a great start and we thought it was funny all the time we’ve been here, but we’re ready to move on,” Imholte said.
The store has been operating for more than a year now, with more than 500 consigners, and has provided a steady revenue stream to help the theater organization afford its monthly rent and utility bills.
“Just knowing that the Kenai Performers has a permanent home. That is what I think is going to make a huge difference,” said Mary Krull, a Curtain Call founding volunteer and a Kenai Performers board member.
The rest of the building will be utilized for scene shop space; props, costume and building material storage; and, eventually, a 142-seat theater, conference and performance space.
“At this point the rest is going to be expensive storage until we continue with phases two and three of our proposed build-out, and that’s going to take a concerted effort in a fundraising capital campaign,” Cook said.
Until money is raised and renovations are complete, the Kenai Performers will operate as it has for much of its 40-year history, staging performances wherever and whenever it can. Rehearsals are already under way for the musical “Peter Pan,” to be performed in February and March at Kenai Central High School, and other venue options are being sought.
“We are looking to expand our season in whatever capacity we can as we find venues in which to perform,” Cook said.
The group is also continually looking to expand its family of participants and supporters, and collaborations with other organizations in the community. That’s one of the best things of the Kenai Performers now having its own home — inviting others into it.
“There’s a place for anyone and everyone, regardless of the number of hours or degree of your skill set. We have a place for everybody, whether it’s one hour or a hundred hours,” Cook said. “You want to learn something or you’re an expert in something, we got it.”
For more information, contact Cook at the Kenai Performers’ new building at 283-0214, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to the organization’s e-newsletter.