BY BREANNA COLLINS, ENERGIZING ENTREPRENEURIAL COMMUNITIES VISTA, THE HUB
Back when the Turn This Town Around initiative was underway in Grafton in 2014, community members identified a number of projects they wanted to tackle to help jumpstart economic growth and community engagement in the town. Community leaders worked on projects from repainting a caboose to dreaming big about old and historic buildings in the downtown area. During this process, the Manos Theatre was identified as a key property that the community desired to see reopened and available to the public. While community projects have been ongoing in the Grafton area ever since, the Manos Theatre fell to the wayside.
The theatre was owned by the Mother’s Day Shrine, located directly across the street, for a number of years. Members of All Aboard Grafton began to redirect their efforts toward making their dream to redevelop this building a reality. In late spring of 2018, the City of Grafton purchased the property back from the Mother’s Day Shrine (the City sold them the property the many years before).
Members of All Aboard Grafton attended City Council meetings to express the group – as well as the community’s – hope for the restoration of the space. Mayor Peggy Barney, alongside councilmen and women, and City Manager Kevin Stead directed the group to form a community-driven steering committee to offer guidance based on the community’s wishes as well as to provide project assistance that Mayor Barney and Kevin Stead would also be included in.
The group formed quickly and decided upon ways to spread the word that efforts were beginning at the theatre in anticipation of the city’s annual Spirit of Grafton Festival and 151st Memorial Day Parade when thousands of people would fill the streets of Grafton.
Architect Joe Sinclair of Thrasher Engineering, a member of the steering committee, developed a rendering of what the facade could look like that was placed in the poster cases on the front of the building. All Aboard Grafton’s Michaela Flohr was already in the planning phases of preparing the group’s annual Gala Fundraiser and they determined that proceeds from the event would help support the Manos Theatre project.
The steering committee knew that establishing a need for the space would be crucial to ensuring the project continued to move forward. Carol Harvey, owner of Tygart Lake Golf Course, was already part of the steering committee and had years of experience in theatre. She reached out to former colleague in theatre projects and local teacher Duretha Mayle to create and establish a community theatre group.
In less than a month, the two had created the “Theatre on Main” and held the group’s first performance at Grafton’s June First Friday event that was a reading called America. The duo has catapulted this new group into existence, with 30 people attending their first gathering. The Taylor County Arts Council donated the funds necessary to trademark and copyright the new group’s name and logo. In mid-June, they held a “Basics of Theatre” workshop geared toward 6th, 7th and 8th graders where students from surrounding counties also attended.
With the Theatre On Main up and running, it was time for others to spring into action. Active community members attended City Council and County Commission meetings in hopes of involving everyone in the efforts. With three main needs to the facility identified early on – the facade, electric, and a heating and cooling system – the hope was that local government entities would be eager to get involved. Theatre On Main approached both city and county with aspirations of attaining seed money for production cost such as royalties, costumes, scenery, etc. The city and county agreed to give the group $3,500.00 each. The city had already begun the undertaking of having the electric installed inside of the facility and the county agreed to pay the roughly $9,000.00 cost of installation.
Another key partner in the project is the community’s local coal mine, Leer Mine. With resources, equipment and personnel on hand at their facility they have the ability to provide construction muscle. Another local business owner has offered to purchase a movie projector and equipment for the theatre space, that was originally a movie theatre in its day, as a way to provide a wholesome pastime for children of the area and adults alike. The Taylor County EDA has also been involved in the project as well and are excited to be part of such an influential project for the community.
The collaboration of local government, business entities, and organizations instills community confidence and is critical to a project of such magnitude. The community-wide entrepreneurial endeavor will take much grit and dedication as well as strategy and structure to establish and maintain such a facility.
The Manos Theatre steering committee has remained open-minded in thinking through performance possibilities and other uses of the space. Theatre On Main is always looking for new members for all areas of theatre interest. In going forward, the community is extremely enthusiastic to see the Manos Theatre come back to life, and once again attend events within the facility.