By Waringa Kamau
The Theater at Lime Kiln’s board of directors and a dedicated team of volunteers say, “The show must go on.” The Kiln is set to reopen this May after being closed for more than a year.
“The community felt the void and now everybody is ready to bring back the Kiln,” said Mike Stolarz, chairman of the current board.
Lime Kiln is an outdoor community theater just outside of Lexington that was founded in the 1980s on the site of what used to be an actual limekiln.
The Theater at Lime Kiln shut down in late 2012 because of financial difficulties. That year, the theater started the “Help Stoke the Kiln” fundraising campaign. The Kiln received donations from the community and a $93,000 loan from the United States Department of Agriculture, but the campaign failed to raise the $400,000 needed to keep the facility running. When the decision to close was finally made, the board returned the donations and the government loan.
This time around, Stolarz says the board is working on a model that will ensure the outdoor theater has a constant flow of money.
“We’re planning to rent out the facility to other groups or individuals during our off weekends for events such as weddings or alumni reunions,” Stolarz said.
Stolarz said there has already been some financial commitment from the community to revive the Kiln, including an anonymous $12,000 donation. He said this money will be used to finance renovations on the site.
Spencer McElroy, the Kiln’s new executive director, said that renovations will happen in phases depending on the availability of resources.
“With limited upfront funding and a tight time frame, we’re concentrating our efforts on just the Bowl so we can make something happen by May,” McElroy said.
The Bowl is the smaller of the two theaters at the Kiln. All of next season’s shows will be held there.
He said the board will be applying for federal loans and is working to establish meaningful partnerships with local business owners and governments.
Part of the new model also involves diversifying the events that the Kiln will host, McElroy said. He said he believes this could make the Kiln eligible for more grants and loans.
McElroy said he remembers going to theater camps at the Kiln as a child and he would like to bring that back so that local children can have similar experiences. This, he says, will make the theater more valuable to the community.
At these initial stages, the board is determined to keep costs low and is therefore relying on community volunteers to rebuild the theater.
Stolarz calls it a “grassroots community effort.” The board is working with a 100-person volunteer group popularly known as FOLKS, which stands for Friends of Lime Kiln Serving.
The volunteer group formally meets every other Monday and has working parties every weekend. Smaller committees are also being set up to manage individual projects on the site.
McElroy said that the board is now complete and consists of 10 members that he believes are committed to see the Kiln thrive.
When appointing people to the board, Stolarz said that they were looking for “new energy” and people who could bring in some fresh ideas.
Morgan Harris, a 2009 Washington and Lee alumnus, recently joined the board as its social media chair. He says that part of what he is looking to accomplish is to get more young people in the area excited about the Kiln and what it has to offer.
There seemed to be a “big disconnect” between the Kiln and Washington and Lee in the past, he said. Harris is working to establish connections to “welcome the student community to attend shows.”
McElroy said that they have already started booking shows and the plan is to host two events per month between May and September.
The Kiln is to remain open after the season is over and host popular events like the Wine Festival and the traditional after-Christmas tree burning.