KISS Theatre Co.,a non-profit theatre company located in the Wyoming Valley Mall, was given a 90-day eviction notice on March 6. After a five year run at their theatre “home”, the group is now forced to find a new location.
KISS, Kids Innovating Stage and Sound, works to educate, entertain and enrich the lives of young people ages 4-17 through theatre, dance and song. KISS provides a safe environment in which to learn and practice a creative art and build social skills. Workshops are offered year-long focusing on all aspects of theatre arts.
Over 500 area children participate in the company, including at least 50 families from Mountaintop who have participated in KISS productions. Alyssa Golden starred as Aida in KISS’ production of Aida School Edition in January 2011, and is slated to appear in the group’s production of Grease, slated to open May 9. Another resident, Alex Elasser, will star as Danny Zuko.
Kevin Barno and his daughter Erin, also of Mountaintop, had leads in the Family Workshop that finished just a few weeks ago.
Christa Manning, KISS founder and artistic director, says she’s “putting on a brave face for the kids, but we’re scrambling.”
“KISS is more than just a building,” explains Christa. She emphasizes if the group can’t stay in the mall, they will carry on wherever they go. “If nothing, else,” Christa remarks, “we is raising awareness how important the arts are. The community has to wake up. The arts are a necessity for our children.”
Christa relates KISS, is a “bully-free zone.” All of the kids respect each other, and the kids don’t tolerate any bullying, which is rare. The kids who work with KISS become friends with kids they would never have crossed paths with any other setting.
Many members of KISS have special needs, like Down Syndrome or Autism. Christa explains that when these kids earn leads, they are not pitied, “they earned it.” They work just as hard as the other kids in the group, and Christa emphasizes, “They’re part of a team.”
Christa has received tons of letters of support from past KISS members and parents.
When addressing the eviction notice, she relates, “It breaks my heart.” She explains that people don’t know how expensive it can be to run a show. The insurance required to run KISS Theatre is astronomical, but Christa says that money is not the issue. “We don’t do it for the money; we do it because we believe in it.”
KISS has shows planned and paid for through the end of the year that kids have already signed up to participate in. KISS also does an annual talent expo with Family Children Services, which works with extremely at-risk youth. Krista doesn’t know where that will be done this year.
KISS first began on a temporary basis at Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, moving to the Wyoming Valley Mall about four and a half years ago. A restaurant is slated to be taking the space that will be vacated by KISS in June. Christa notes several restaurants have come and gone in the mall since the time KISS has been there.
A meeting was held on March 9 to discuss ideas about what will be done. Christa says, “I don’t like asking for money, but at this point, it is a necessity.”
Christa explains that kids who want to participate in shows but are unable to afford it are never turned away. Even someone who wants to see the shows but cannot pay for a ticket is never turned away.
“We need an angel to come forward,” remarks Christa.
KISS Theater Co. has been offered temporary use of spaces belonging to other theaters, like Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, but they have not been offered a permanent home if they are evicted.
A Night at the Races Fundraiser has been planned for April 19, beginning at 6 pm at the Independent Fire Company in Kingston. Their Facebook Page, “Save KISS Theatre” also has a “donate” button. They are on Twitter now, @saveKISStheatre, and Broadway stars like Kristin Chenoweth have spread their message on the internet.
KISS also has a petition on change.orgthat has 3,915 of the 5,000 signatures needed that will be sent to the Wyoming Valley Mall.
The owners of the mall, PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Trust), have responded to the letters sent to them by kids involved in KISS Theatre and their families and supporters. They have offered a new space to the group that is 3,000 feet smaller than their current space, and the rent is much higher and the space needs a large amount of repairs. The new space is in a shopping center owned by PREIT behind the mall. The mall’s website currently states, “Unfortunately our discussions for another space at the Wyoming Valley Mall are not acceptable to KISS, but we wish them the best of luck in finding a new home to continue to provide children across the community with enriching experiences.”
For questions or to help, call KISS 570-829-1901, or email info@ kisstheatre.org.