Area arts group finding a way

Altoona Community Theatre seeking alternative options

Like many nonprofit organizations, the Altoona Community Theatre is exploring new ways to reach audiences at a time when the arts and entertainment industry that’s been walloped by COVID-19.

“We don’t want to lie dormant,” President Jim Watt said. Founded in 1948, ACT has brought live productions to life for generations of children and adults who enjoy live performance art.

Due to government restrictions on in-person gatherings, ACT is seeking ideas from the community for alternative ways to create performance art at no cost, said Watt of Duncansville, most likely through live-stream or digitally produced events in the fall.

ACT is also asking for community support by becoming a dues-paying member in the organization, submitting creative ideas or play manuscripts, or by offering pro-bono grant-writing services. An individual membership costs $20 and a family membership is $30 and would help offset building and utilities expenses.

Watt recently assumed the position of organization president from Eric Wolf. Watt is joined by Bryce Cossitor, vice president; Melinda Fellabaum, treasurer; and Matt Michrina as secretary.

Restrictions necessitated the cancellation of its spring production and several fundraisers, its main sources of revenue, Watt said. The board made the difficult decision to furlough its paid, full-time executive director Cindy Stanbro in May, according to Michelle Barnes, chairwoman of ACT’s Marketing and Development Committee.

Stanbro had moved to Altoona a year ago and made the decision to return to her family in Spencer, Iowa.

When contacted, she wrote, “I have worked in theater many years and I learned early on that nothing is guaranteed tomorrow. Everything is an opportunity today, a gift. It is up to us to make the most of it and be grateful for our opportunities. It was an honor to serve the Central PA community and I hope my work at ACT will help the organization for many years.”

Prior to the pandemic, the board had hoped to add a full-time paid assistant, but like so many other businesses, those plans have been paused, Watt said.

In the meantime, ACT is soliciting ideas for the next several months. Ideas will be reviewed by its Artistic Committee and then the full board.

Jonathan O’Harrow, an ACT board member and a past-president, said one idea is a cabaret style performance where different vocalists would perform at the rehearsal hall and he would accompany them on piano from a safe distance. The performances would then be digitally edited into a show.

O’Harrow said an improv group he participates in, called Rail City Improv group, has proposed a live stream event with the local players in a “Whose Line is It Anyway” show.

Whatever the specifics, the goal is to entertain at a time when laughter is much-needed Watt said.

“There are so many things we can’t do, but we can sit down and share a laugh,” Watt said. “We will try to do some things to minimize the loss and, hopefully, in the end come out good and even stronger than before.”

To submit ideas, manuscripts, become a member or to donate, visit Altoona Community Theatre’s web site at https://altoonacommunitytheatre.z2systems.com/np/clients/altoonacommunitytheatre/membershipJoin.jsp

Or its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Altoona%20Community%20Theatre.


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