A parent’s fondest wish is to see her children excel, whether in sports, academics, or perhaps even the performing arts. Likewise, there are children who were born to be on stage— those who dream about becoming a musician, a dancer, or an actor. These instincts must be nurtured and encouraged to develop for the sake of our culture.
At an early age, Christa Manning-Dupper recognized the need for an outlet for young talent in the performing arts.
“Having belonged to a group whose funding was cut when I was 14, I had always sworn that I would someday start a theatre for kids,” she said. “I would always preface that dream with ‘when I win the lottery…’”
Years later, during a breakfast meeting for a theatre festival in March of 2006, Manning-Dupper didn’t win the lottery, but she was asked by Little Theatre Board of Directors Chairman Walter Mitchell if she would be interested in putting a children’s summer theatre workshop together at the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre (LTWB). Realizing the opportunity, the ground work was soon set and the road to fruition arrived at its first junction in the Summer of 2006, when the first group of 17 children performed Annie Jr.
Following the successful first summer workshop, the group organized as its own 501c3 nonprofit performing arts corporation and KISS (Kids Innovating Stage and Sound) Theatre Company was born, with the mission “educating, entertaining, and enriching the lives of young people through the arts of theatre, dance,and song.”
Although the group had separated from LTWB, its relationship remained sound and it was afforded the ability to rent performance space for numerous productions, including Pirates of Penzance Jr., Guys and Dolls Jr., and Beauty and the Beast. However, according to Manning-Dupper, who today is KISS’s producing artist director, the group’s five-year goal was to have its own theatre.
“We knew that KISS would eventually need a place to call home,” she said. “Five years seem rather ambitious for a new and relatively unknown group. However, within three years we were already looking at spaces.”
Registration grew steadily— a cast of 71 for Beauty and the Beast— and, although its members considered themselves fortunate to find rehearsal and storage space at the Phoenix Performing Arts Centre, in Dupont, KISS was soon unable to work with the centre’s limited performance area and location.
After researching a number of options, the group was drawn to the former movie cinemas at the Wyoming Valley Mall, in Wilkes-Barre. Manning-Dupper knew that she had found the perfect location and, although it would take a lot of work to bring the venue around, the group persevered.
“Through the efforts of a strong board of directors, dedicated parent volunteers, a number of talented and hardworking staff members, and the dreams of the kids, we opened the doors of our new home with our production of The Wizard of Oz, which sold out each of its seven performances,” she said. “This show not only marked our 20th production, but was the realization of one dream and the beginning of so many others.”
KISS Theatre Company maintains a comprehensive performing arts curriculum for children ages 4-17. In the coming months, a wide range of classes and workshops will be added for children of all ages, in all areas of the arts. Anticipated programs feature: dance classes, including a Mommy and Me program, jazz, tap, and hip hop; technical workshops for those who would like to learn about “behind the scenes”; audition preparation classes for monologues, song choice, and dance audition pieces; day workshops for themed make-up application, special dance classes, and art classes; poise and modeling classes for building self-confidence, make-up basics, runway walk, and a personal photography session; “Littles” Workshop for ages 4-10, to learn and perform a Disney Kids show; “Junior” Workshop for ages 10-17, to learn and prepare a Broadway Jr. show; and “Masters” Workshop for children of all ages to audition for a full-scale Broadway show.
Renovation work is an expensive venture, and, therefore, donations are needed to fund a variety of anticipated projects, including KISS Theatre’s Capital Campaign, a number of naming opportunities within the theatre itself, and a Seat Campaign. For more information about KISS Theatre Company or to donate, call (570) 991-1818 or visit www.kisstheatre.org
. The KISS Box Office can be reached at (570) 829-1901.