A Stage to Call Home

Bigfork Playhouse Children's Theatre works toward full ownership of building that already produces shows, classes, and new talent

By Molly Priddy
Brach Thomson quickly instructs actors during a dress rehearsal of The Nifty Fifties presented by Bigfork Playhouse Children's Theatre. Beacon File Photo

When Brach Thomson first saw the building that would eventually house the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre program, he knew it was a perfect location.

The building, formerly a thrift store, sat empty on the north end of Grand Drive giving it a straight shot to the restaurants and stores in the village’s downtown, as well as bordering the schools.

“I got to thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is perfect, kids can walk over from school, there’s big enough rooms downstairs for rehearsal,’” Brach Thomson, artistic director for the Children’s Theatre, said.

Not long after, the theater program became a tenant, along with the Bigfork ACES After School Program. Thomson’s dream was to be able to turn it into a performing arts center for kids, with creativity and support flowing through the hallways.

Initially, it seemed that would work, until they realized the building’s age didn’t provide for great soundproofing between rooms. These days, the children’s theater stays upstairs, while ACES works downstairs.

Thomson’s crew doesn’t just put on summer plays. The building is busy all year, with theater workshops, afterschool choirs, jazz band, tap dancing lessons, and more. The Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre’s summer program starts up in May.

Since day one of the BPCT, Thomson said he’s striven for excellence, to be able to put on shows that will leave audiences thrilled and impressed, to blow their idea of what a children’s production should be right out of the water.

It’s been a successful mission, with more than 5,000 kids reached every year, while also providing top-notch stage productions.

“This is the home for that, where those kids have those rehearsals,” Thomson said of the theater’s building.

And if the theater company plays its cards right, that home stage could change from a lease agreement to permanent ownership. After buying 47 percent of the building in 2014 from Walter Kuhn, who put up the original financing for the building with the idea that the children’s theater would eventually buy him out, Thomson said the next step is buying out the second half from the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork.

“We entered into a three-year agreement with them saying our goal is to sell this to you,” CFBB President Paul Mutascio said. “We wanted to ensure there was a Children’s Theatre, it’s a safe place for kids in Bigfork.”

On Jan. 14, the CFBB held a special board meeting during which it decided to sell the remaining share of the building to the Children’s Theatre for a flat rate of $85,000. It’s a considerable donation, Mutascio said, because the organization has invested more than $102,000 in the building.

The lease between the two organizations showed that the monthly rental fee was charged only to recover the CFBB’s costs for insurance, property taxes, and depreciation.

The theater program has until Jan. 31, 2017 to pay the $85,000, and Thomson said his program has about $65,000 already. The remaining $20,000 will have to be raised this year.

“We think it’s doable,” he said.

So far, there’s a big fundraiser planned for April, Thomson said, a dinner complete with entertainment from the program’s students. Since the general purpose of the Children’s Theatre is to provide entertainment, Thomson said it’s the best way to show attendees just what their contributions will pay for.

“I hate running around door to door asking for dough,” Thomson said. “I’d rather show you what these kids can do so you’re moved to donate to the program.”

Since the CFBB is run exclusively by volunteers, the money from the resulting sale will be up for other uses in the village, Mustascio said.

“All that money that we get from the sale goes right back into the Bigfork community area,” Mutascio said.

Having a permanent home for the theatre program is important to Thomson, not just because owning a building allows for more consistency. It’s crucial to have a stable, supportive place for these kids to learn and grow, he said, and audiences will be able to see the results from those efforts.

“It’s great to hear that the kids are making that kind of impact on people,” Thomson said.

To donate to the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre building fund, send donations to PO Box 456, Bigfork, 59911, c/o Building Fund, or contact [email protected]

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