Home Viewpoints highlights effort to revive Wayne Theatre

Viewpoints highlights effort to revive Wayne Theatre


My history with the Wayne Theatre dates back to the 1980s, when I applied for a job, and left the interview thinking I had it.

It was, alas, not to be, but I hold no grudges. Wish the same could be said of some others in Waynesboro, where the 90-year-old theatre is once again thriving, but doing so in spite of the efforts of the City Council, which attempted to pull the rug out from under the Wayne.

A 16-year redevelopment effort culminated in the grand reopening of the Wayne Theatre in March. The effort was highlighted on this week’s Viewpoints on WVPT, which was more personal for myself and my co-host, Crystal Graham, the former assistant director of the Wayne.

Tracy Straight, the executive director of the Wayne Theatre, noted that construction started and stopped three times on the $10 million project, and with the first full season under way, the focus is now on building the schedule and building a steady source of revenue for operations.

“We are on a shoestring,” said Straight, explaining that ticket sales cover 40 percent of what goes on stage, with the other 60 percent coming from sponsors, business and individual.

The Wayne Theatre Alliance and the City of Waynesboro had come to terms nearly a decade ago on a performance agreement that would have provided $140,000 annually to the Wayne’s operations as long as the theatre met a set of rigorous economic benchmarks.

The money was meant to be anything but a gift, rather was an investment, the idea being that a vibrant Wayne could draw visitors to the downtown district from the local base and from a wider region, pumping dollars into restaurants, hotels and bed and breakfasts.

A shortsighted City Council pulled the money off the table weeks after the Wayne opened its doors, a thumb in the eye of the dozens of people who have donated to the effort and given their time to seeing it through.

The move forced the theatre to scale back on its schedule of big events, but the Wayne is still having an impact on local businesses.

“We really take advantage of our downtown restaurants,” Straight said, pointing to the relationship with Jake’s Bar and Grill and The Green Leaf Grill, both of which offer hospitality to performers.

The impact has been felt at restaurants and shops on Main Street and Wayne Avenue.

“We feel like the Wayne has been very influential in having some of these businesses come to the downtown area,” said Sara Howlett, a member of the Wayne Theatre Alliance board of directors since 2006. “We’ve heard that from merchants. We are so excited when you have a show downtown. It’s good for them, it’s good for us, and we hope that the City Council will see this, that they will see what an impact the theatre has on the downtown.”

The Wayne is efforting to expand its marketing reach, locally and regionally.

“It’s an area that we’re looking to build and grow. We’re still introducing the theatre to new people every time the doors open,” said Straight, pointing to the range of events at every price point, including weekly pay-what-you-will movies that have become very popular.

“We think about people that we maybe haven’t seen at the theatre,” Howlett said. “We’re trying to invite them in. People coming to the community for the Fall Foliage weekend, that’s an opportunity to promote the theatre, to get the word out the community, and to the larger community. Because that’s what we want to be. We want to be a regional theatre for the whole community, not just Waynesboro.”

Story by Chris Graham



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