Word traveled fast about the eviction of KISS Children’s Theatre from the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre. The situation caused an outpouring of support all around the community to help save the theater.
Local businesses across the valley have come together to show their support for KISS by offering special deals on their products and donate a specific monetary amount to help KISS remain in motion.
“Pizza Bella is donating $2 from every large pizza sold at any five of their locations,” Christa Manning, producing artistic director, said. “And Bruno Hair and Nail Salon is also offering $2 from any service to help KISS Children’s Theatre.”
Representatives of Pizza Bella also invited members of KISS to visit their locations in an effort to collect donations directly from the public.
Manning also said that nobody from Bruno’s or Pizza Bella has children involved with KISS.
“They’re not obligated to do this. We didn’t ask. What is so cool is that so many people that don’t have to feel that obligation are just helping because they’re good people.”
Who would think, though, that news would spread as far as Florida where Marc Adams and Rob Gambassi, the owners of Iced Bakery, are doing their part to help KISS.
“When my husband and co-owner Rod and I heard about what the mall owners were doing to KISS Theatre we knew that we had to do something,” Marc Adams said. “Rod and I talked about how we could do something even though we aren’t in NEPA. The fundraiser seemed the best and right thing to do.”
Adams and Gambassi’s fundraiser supports KISS Children’s Theatre by donating 50 percent of any baked goods sale to KISS. So far, Iced Bakery has raised more than $700 in donated funds.
Before searching for another location to call home and accepting donations from outside businesses, members of KISS had appealed to Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, PREIT, to remain in the mall.
“Social Media played a huge apart in all of this, as well as Kid’s personal testimonies, Kristen Peterman said. Peterman has been a counselor for KISS for four years. “KISS relied on an emotional appeal first and attempted a huge letter-writing campaign from its members. PREIT, the mall management company is very receptive to Twitter and rely very heavily on that to monitor what people are saying their stores and their brand.”
PREIT offered a second location for KISS to carry out its productions, but according to both Peterman and Manning it would be a difficult and costly process to retrofit a new space to suit their needs.
I was unable to get in touch with a representative a PREIT for comment regarding their reason for the change in tenancy.
KISS have also been offered temporary spaces from other theater companies to complete the season that they’ve had planned for almost a year now.
“Some of them will work, but some will be very difficult,” Peterman said. “There is a solution. There isn’t a permanent home. While we know that KISS Theatre is more than just a company and our kids will absolutely tell you that, we know that the break in consistency is not good for them.”
Peterman said that the theater is like a home to many of the kids who see it as home and a place of safety where they can be themselves and interact with other children in a comfortable environment.
“We have kids from all walks of life and ranging from all ages. We encourage our kids to be themselves and accepting of others no matter what,” Manning said. “They come here after school and its amazing to see someone who is ten years old having a conversation with a kid who is 17. It’s incredible.”
“You couldn’t ask for a better space than this. We were so lucky to get this place. We tell the kids all the time that this is their place. We’re just the adults who have to take care of business.”
Manning explained that KISS isn’t just a theater. It’s a home filled with memories for so many people.
“We had a couple come in and ask if they could take their anniversary photos in the auditorium because they met each other when it was still a movie theater.”
“I used to come here to watch movies,” explains Elizabeth Masi, a senior member of KISS. “I think I watched ‘Shreck,’ actually.”
Masi is performing in the junior version of “Jekyll & Hyde” as Lucy Harris.
“This is solace,” Masi said. “The great thing about KISS is that you’re not forced to come here. You decide to come here because you love every person in this place. No matter what is going on at home or at school, it’s nice to have this place to come to and to have it taken away from you sucks.”
KISS was given 90 days to vacate the space at the Wyoming Valley Mall and are finishing out their tenancy with high hopes that everything will fall into place for them as they continue to gain support from the local community and people like Marc and Rob of Iced Bakery in Florida who believe that KISS Children’s Theatre is an excellent program for nurturing youth.
There is no shortage of praise for fundamental opportunities KISS provides for the children involved with the program.
Manning was quick to explain that it is a communal effort. Everyone who is involved with KISS has worked to make it what it is, but every ship needs a captain and Christa Manning has provided guidance to the kids of KISS.
“I didn’t worry about what I was going to do about it. I was worried about how I was going to tell the kids. That was probably the hardest thing to do because you have to stay positive for the kids,” Manning said. “Everybody’s first response is going to be anger and you don’t want them to go there. You want them to show why a place like this is important and what it’s made them become; the articulate, well-mannered and respectful young adults that they are.”
“Christa is someone who is never going to quite,” Masi said. “She recognizes the negative in a situation but turns it into a positive thing. Kids can get discouraged easily, but Christa is saying that it’s not an end. It’s a new beginning.”