New London arts center presents ‘Night Watch’
By Scott Bellile
A former downtown New London church has transformed into an arts center where creative masterminds unleash their ideas.
REAL Opportunities Outreach, 304 St. Johns Pl., opened last spring where the Christian Cornerstone Church previously operated. REAL Opportunities began as an art gallery and center for art classes and has expanded over the summer to become a home for the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe.
Actors are now perfecting their lines for their first production next week at the new home, the 1972 thriller “Night Watch” by Lucille Fletcher. The play runs Wednesday, Oct. 7, through Saturday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. for all performances. Tickets are $12 each and available by calling Judy at 920-982-6060.
REAL Opportunities Outreach gallery founder Malcome Hathorne had mulled an idea for an arts center for two years. He wanted artists to gain recognition because their local organization, the Wolf River Art League, only enters the public’s radar when the annual Mid-Winter Art Show at New London High School rolls around.
“I had a desire to help the local artists, to help them sell and display their artwork,” Malcome said.
Malcome found his opportunity after Easter. Christian Cornerstone Church ceased its services due to declining membership and Pastor Bill Stiebs moving to Arizona. Malcome and his wife Amy opened the arts center in May and continue to renovate inside, converting it from worship space to creative space.
The non-profit community outreach lets artists hang their works for free. It obtains funding through public donations and from artists who choose to give a portion of their sales back to REAL Opportunities.
“We have our faith base, but we don’t force that on people,” he said.
This home for artists was needed, Malcome said, because he knows artists’ frustrations: they produce a few paintings, fill up the walls at home and then wonder where to go from there. Here, artists can collaborate and build a public presence.
The Hathornes didn’t want the center to only serve hands-on painters and sculptors, however.
Enter the Wolf River Theatrical Troupe.
The troupe sold its previous home on North Water Street in 2012 because the building was falling apart and the troupe couldn’t afford to fix it. That building was razed in June.
“When we lost our home, nobody knew where we were, so we lost a lot of business, a lot of patrons,” Wolf River Theatrical Troupe President Margie Brown said.
The troupe spent three years homeless, performing plays at whatever local venue would host a show, be it a restaurant or a school.
“We rehearsed in houses and barns and churches and schoolrooms,” Brown said.
Amy reached out to Brown and offered the troupe to stage its next show at REAL Opportunities.
“I said, ‘Amy, dear, I don’t need another place to do a show. I need a home,’” Brown recalled.
The 33-year-old theatrical troupe is ready to bring back the patrons it lost by sharing space with painters and craftspeople who are already building an art community there. The former church altar is now the stage, but the art stays hanging on the walls so theatergoers will be able to take in the art during intermission of next week’s production of “Night Watch.”
“Night Watch” is the New London debut for Fox Valley-area director Michael Laskowski. He said he looked at the stage inside REAL Opportunities and saw potential immediately.
“I love this theater, I really do,” Laskowski said. “It’s a charming place and it’s got some character to it.”
“Night Watch” actor Brad Dokken of Greenville said he particular enjoys the fact that REAL Opportunities joins fine art (the tangible art such as paintings, sculpture and crafts) with performance art.
“It offers a lot of possibilities and I think it’s a good opportunity for two similar entities to combine,” Dokken said.
The Hathornes are considering integrating other arts into REAL Opportunities in the future, including live music, poetry readings, dance, and wine and painting nights.