F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre named Best Music Venue in 2016 Times Leader Reader’s Choice Awards
WILKES-BARRE — The F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts offered 125 shows in 2015, ranging from cultural displays like Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic performances to star acts like Jerry Seinfeld and Z.Z. Top. The result was an increase in attendance, a financially successful season and community recognition.
Now, the community has lauded the historic theater again, selecting the Kirby Center as Best Music Venue for the 2016 Times Leader Readers’ Choice Awards.
“It’s an honor,” said executive director Will Beekman. “For us to be considered Best Music Venue means a lot for us, and we know how hard the people work at the other venues. We’re friends with them. We work together. We consider them our peers, so to receive that honor is humbling.”
Beekman said 2015 was encouraging, showing hard work pays off.
“What was most satisfying about last year is that we started to see results from what has been a bit of a paradigm shift in terms of our programming model,” Beekman said. “That was to be a little more aggressive, not only in who we bring in but in how many shows we bring in.”
Beekman said the Kirby staff is as much to credit as the philosophy.
“Our tech director has slept here a couple times,” Beekman said. “I think it’s more of a lifestyle than a job. But if you love it, you’re having fun right now.”
Anne Rodella, director of sales and marketing, said it’s been enjoyable to see relationships grow with community partners and with the community at-large.
“To grow show-wise and people-wise at the same time has been fun,” Rodella said.
Beekman noted the Kirby’s mission to bring arts, in general, into the community.
“As much as we love booking Jerry Seinfeld and Z.Z. Top, we enjoy just as much bringing in the opera and Broadway,” he said. “That’s the stuff that makes us the Kirby Center.”
Rodella said bringing in those larger acts has encouraged the staff to bring in more mission-oriented art shows.
“We’re feeling more comfortable to expand that part,” Rodella said. “And it’s exciting.”
With more than 50 volunteers and a growing number of community members who inquire about volunteering or being on the Kirby’s board of directors, Beekman said public support makes the Kirby team feel good.
“I think it speaks to the fact that it’s a fun place to be, to attend a show, to work a show, to just be here,” Beekman said.
Rodella, who has worked at the Kirby Center for 16 years, has seen the place evolve.
“The positivity we feel every year as we grow is so encouraging, straight from the audience member who’s walking in for maybe one show that year to performers who enjoy being here,” Rodella said.
Beekman enjoys seeing downtown shops and eateries benefit from Kirby traffic as much as he enjoys seeing the theater full, and he hopes the future will bring even more interest in Wilkes-Barre.
“What I would like to do is not stop here,” Beekman said. “We’re running a little ragged right now, but we’re seeing that it’s working and paying off. I would like to get to a point where we can hire more people and, therefore, do more shows and, therefore, bring more people to downtown and, therefore, bring in more of our mission programming and just continue to ramp that up.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]