What people won’t do for a ‘KISS’

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First Posted: 1/19/2015

The hashtag on the SAVE KISS Facebook page probably says it best: #ittakesavillagetobuildourtheatre.

Eight months ago, the KISS Theatre, a nonprofit performing arts organization with the mission of educating, entertaining and enriching the lives of young people ages 5 to 18, were forced to leave their home of five years at the Wyoming Valley Mall.

On March 6, KISS (Kids Innovating Stage and Sound) received a letter stating that in 90 days, they would be evicted from the mall.

The KISS kids fought back. They brought the true-spirit of theater to life by adding new meaning to the phrase “The show must go on.”

And it has. The nearly 500 students have not missed a performance, according to David Parmelee, a member of the KISS board of directors, while they await moving into their new home at the old Beiter’s Home Center building in the East End Shopping Centre, Wilkes-Barre. The site was donated by Joe Amato and Amato Properties, allowing the KISS group to use the storefront as a makeshift theater until the back warehouse location of that building is ready.

“The kids have adapted well now. They were devastated when they had to leave the old place,” Parmelee said. “Like anything, the old place had become like home to them. And with the theater, a place can become familiar. There are ‘ghosts’ in the theater and echoes of performances past.”

After leaving the mall location, the kids have held shows at St. Nicholas/ St. Mary’s School in Wilkes-Barre while rehearsing at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Ashley.

And the community has stepped up to show its support to help the KISS kids rebuild a vacant warehouse into a viable theater.

The “KISS Krew,” a Leadership Wilkes-Barre Class of 2015 Impact Team, is organizing a comedy benefit show in support of KISS. It will be held at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 23, at Wisecrackers Comedy Club, located at the Mohegan Sun Casino at Pocono Downs. Comedians scheduled for the event include the Legendary WID, John Kensil and Scott Bruce.

KISS Krew member Jason Jarecki, general manager of the Toyota SportsPlex, Wilkes-Barre, said the plight of the children was something he could relate to since his job is 88 percent child-related.

The team, comprised of seven members in various professions, said they hope to raise $5,000, an amount Leadership has capped for each of its seven Impact Teams doing various community projects. “We want them to use this money for whatever their needs are,” Jarecki said. “Whether it’s drywall or toilets or carpeting. They need everything. The space was a warehouse. They are starting from the ground up. ”

Laborers, business owners, students, parents and the community have come forward to donate building materials, manpower and money. The group raised $100,000 in eight months and the remaining building needs will be handled by community partners, donated materials, and additional fundraisers.

The KISS kids raised more than $5,000 of that money themselves at a recent dance marathon.

The new facility will have a main theater and a cabaret theater without fixed setting enabling the kids to do other types of shows. Both theaters will share the same stage.

“Maybe this worked out for the best,” Jarecki said. “There is no limit to how they can construct this to fit their needs. The only limit is the limit of their imagination. The sky is the limit for them.”

KISS will host a community get-together called “Coffee, cookies and KISS” from 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Beiter’s location to show off the progress of the theater renovations and to update the community on the work.

Parmelee stressed that it was important for KISS to personally address the community in this setting rather than through social media. “Facebook is one thing, but in a mind’s eye, you can come in and see what the theater is going to look like,” he said. “It’s important to keep people so invested in the theater abreast of what is happening.”