“We stand there and feel the energy of the crowd together in a circle,” says Hauty. “We listen and soak up that energy, and then we scream with excitement as a group. It’s amazing.”
That energy is something Hauty hopes will be possible in Memorial Hall for years to come. Wings, which provides programming to school-age children, is in the process of raising $93,000 to renovate the basement of Memorial Hall.
“The hope is to have a dance studio with mirrors walled off with windows the way you’d see in a gymnasium,” says Hauty. “And there will also be a waiting room area and three dressing rooms.”
Hauty says the new space would allow Wings to provide new programming, including dance and performance classes to younger school-age children who currently have to go elsewhere, such as Brattleboro and Greenfield, to take music, dance, and circus classes beyond Wings’ current offerings.
Shelley Park, who runs the Wings middle-school program, says she hopes the theater will help build a tradition in the space for area children. “When kids grow up with performance, they want to stay involved in it,” says Park, noting that it can be difficult to get middle-schoolers without dance and performance in their past to be enthusiastic to join.
The goal is to renovate the space so that Wings can use it, but it will also be available to the community. “I could see a lot of usage that isn’t just for Wings kids and after-school programs,” says Lisa Sullivan, chair of Wilmington Works and owner of Bartleby’s Bookstore. “For fitness classes, or dance classes, or other classes.”
Park says she also hopes that more people using Memorial Hall will bring vitality to downtown and honor the history of performance in the space.
“By being able to offer classes there that culminate into performance, it changes the use of Memorial Hall a bit to be more sustainable and more connected to people that live here,” says Park. “I think it’s a great addition to make people in our community feel more connected to the hall now and in the future. We’re getting kids connected, and families connected, and they’re going to want to keep it for the future, and I think that’s huge. And it helps preserve it as a performance space. It was built as a performance space, and this would help keep it for many years to come.”
Park currently leads a two-week theater summer camp in Memorial Hall each year, and Sullivan says that from an economic development standpoint, she notices a boost of energy downtown when Memorial Hall has activity during those two weeks.
“As a business owner downtown, you definitely see a difference during those two weeks,” says Sullivan. “There is definitely activity downtown. You have parents dropping off kids, they grab a cup of coffee, they pop into a store. It’s good economic development for cultivating locals to come and do things in their downtown.”
“A lot of the shopping downtown isn’t everyday shopping,” says Park. “We struggle to find that everyday reason to visit downtown. Having more classes and activities downtown could be centering for the community.”
To kick off the fundraising effort, the group held a fundraising “open stage” event at Memorial Hall last weekend and raised around $2,000. They’ve already received some substantial donation support from the community, too. They received $2,000 from the Bermil Foundation to purchase four wireless microphones and $12,500 from Wilmington Works to purchase a truss system, which supports hanging pieces in a theater, such as fabric for aerial acrobatics or lights.
The group met with the Wilmington Selectboard in April to discuss the renovation plan and to feel out whether funds might be available to assist. The board was enthusiastic about the plan and asked the group to do as much fundraising as they could and then come back to the board.
“The idea is to fundraise as much as possible, and then see if there are 1% funds available,” says Sullivan.
The group will be researching grants as well, and in the coming weeks is going to launch a crowdfunding site. In the meantime, those who are interested in donating can visit wingscharitablefoundation.org, where a tax-deductible donation can be made.