A Tenino-based theatre nonprofit announced this week plans to pursue building a community arts center and theater after acquiring land in downtown Tenino.
Bob McKenzieSullivan, managing director of the Tenino Young-at-Heart Theatre (TYT) group, announced the plans in a news release earlier this week. The group closed this month on a $200,000 purchase of a 0.78-acre property thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor.
The vacant land, made up of three lots, is located on Sussex Avenue between Ritter and Keithahn streets.
For nearly 30 years, the Tenino High School commons has been used as TYT’s performance space. But as the theatre group looks to grow and expand, the best route forward seems to be building a new space.
“We don’t want to be bound by one show a year. We would really like to develop into a season of performances. We’d like a space the community can use for meetings and lectures, to be able to be used for classes and a gallery space for artists,” McKenzieSullivan said.
TYT is currently working with consultants and architects to see how much it would cost to build the arts center. The group is soliciting donations from the community and is starting to apply for grants to build up funds to take on the design and construction phase of the project.
McKenzieSullivan says the idea has been considered for about a decade.
TYT’s plan even seems to have the backing of Tenino’s mayor. In a statement, Mayor Wayne Fournier said he was “beyond excited” with the news.
“TYT has joined in as part of a greater effort to build on the creative sector in Tenino after the establishment of Tenino as a state-certified creative district,” he said.
“Having a performing arts center as a centerpiece to our amazing downtown will pay dividends to our community for generations in more ways than we have yet to understand.”
Jenny Hall, TYT’s treasurer and a parent who’s been involved with the group, said the opportunity is “absolutely thrilling.”
“TYT is an organization unlike any other. When we first got involved, my daughter did one of the shows and the next year had a traumatic loss in the family, and being involved with the production helped us through that … They do lots more than just putting on a show,” she said.
Being part of the theatre group has shown “so much value” to the personal growth of those that have performed in its plays and musicals, Hall said. The relationships and friendships made throughout production of a theatrical piece are tangible and meaningful, Hall said.
“It’s going to take a lot of support and a lot of work to get it done, but I’m optimistic that enough people will be excited and find value in this that we’ll get this done,” she said.
TYT was founded in 1990, according to the news release, and started with the McKenzieSullivan family’s neighborhood production of “Johnny Appleseed.” If built, the arts center would be the group’s first permanent residency.
McKenzieSullivan, a retired music and drama teacher who works part time at Saint Michael Catholic Parish in Olympia, said he holds the idea of expanding close to his heart, especially as families and friends tell and develop their own stories of participation with the group.
“I love how theatre can help people of all ages find new skills and creativity that they did not even know they had,” he said in a statement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on the arts, particularly, and McKenzieSullivan notes they’ve been working to stay busy this last year while also getting creative with their performances. The group hosted their own production of Clue Stay-At-Home Version.
Those health mandates continue today, but the group continues to remain creative. TYT is currently in rehearsals for its production of “A Year with Frog and Toad,” which will take place July 15-25 at the Tenino Quarry Pool.
With this year’s summer performance being hosted outside, McKenzieSullivan said it could get warm for some attendees.
“Come with lots of water, sunscreen and a hat, for sure,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”
A celebration of the property’s purchase and a fundraiser will be held Sept. 18. More information will be published on TYT’s Facebook page.
Donations to the nonprofit can be made online at teninoyoungathearttheatre.org or by sending a check to P.O. Box 202, Rochester, Washington, 98579.