MLT begins construction
New facility to take up to 15 months to finish
By Cathy Spaulding Phoenix Staff Writer
— As officials prepared to break ground Tuesday for a new Muskogee Little Theatre, supporters already shared plans for the new building.
“I hope to start an after-school program,” said MLT board member Chrissy Lewis. “We haven’t had space to do that at all in the old theater. We hope to have after-school classes with theater productions each semester.”
Dozens of MLT supporters gathered Tuesday evening at the southwest corner of Third and Columbus streets to break ground for the 15,500-square-foot facility.
David Eckerson, president of the MLT board of directors, said the groundbreaking celebrates the theater’s 45-year history and a 10-year-dream.
“Some 45 years ago, a handful of volunteers staged productions on borrowed stages with borrowed resources, often funded by the volunteers themselves,” Eckerson said.
MLT later operated out of a former elementary school at 325 E. Cincinnati Ave. About 10 years ago, MLT’s board of directors decided the existing theater was too small and too old to allow continued growth, Eckerson said.
Tuesday’s groundbreaking also celebrated MLT’s successful fundraising campaign. The City of Muskogee Foundation gave MLT a $5.5 million challenge grant if it could raise the first $1 million of its goal of $6.5 million within two years. The goal was exceeded earlier this year by what Eckerson called “one of the most successful capital campaigns in the history of Muskogee.”
MLT Executive Director Coni Wetz said the new facility could take 15 months to build and be completed by September 2015. She said the main stage area will have 260 seats — 100 more than the current building. It also will include a black box theater featuring movable seating and stage area, a lobby and an area to build sets, she said.
“That will help,” said performer and backstage crew member Braden Thompson. “We won’t have to go out in the heat and paint flats.”
Longtime MLT patron Ben Robinson said he must have appeared in at least 25 plays over the past 40 years.
“For a while, I was doing four a year,” Robinson said.
“For a while, MLT had trouble finding people to be in productions,” said patron Glenda Broome.
“I always wanted to be in the productions,” Robinson said. “I have vivid memories of getting a ship painted on my belly. It was so cold in the basement, it was like torture. It was a dirt floor.”
The new theater will anchor a new cultural district, a major goal for the Action In Muskogee (AIM) initiative.
“AIM is an effort of real people who want real change to happen,” said AIM Committee Co-Chairman Tim Faltyn. “When we were putting all this together, we were talking how important it was to have things on the board early, this (the MLT project) immediately came to the front. It was going to be done.”
Faltyn said he had learned that “life is a lot more about momentum than about motivation.”
“What today means is that we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We have all the momentum we need.”