NEW LONDON — Like parents who are finally empty-nesters and put kids' bedrooms to new uses, board members for Crow River Players Inc. have big plans for The Little Theatre in New London now that the school district is moving to its own performing arts center.
For decades the New London-Spicer School District leased the historic Little Theatre for student plays during the school year and the Crow River Players used the stage for summer productions and several one-night music concerts.
The relationship was beneficial to the school district, which didn't have a theater of its own, and it helped the volunteer-driven non-profit community theater organization earn revenue that was used to improve the facility.
But that lease has now ended and NLS is putting the finishing touches on its 650-seat performing arts auditorium. The first production expected to be held there April 12-15.
That means the Crow River Players will have use of the theater all to themselves year-round.
Some people have assumed — incorrectly — that once the new school theater was completed there would be no use for The Little Theatre, said Abigail Duly, president of the Crow River Players.
"That is definitely not the case," she said. "We're going to be here for quite some time."
Duly said there are some productions that would "get lost" on a large stage and in a large auditorium that fit better in the intimate Little Theatre, which was built in 1921.
"We have a small house and that lends itself to many productions," Duly said. "The community does need both (theaters)."
The board has been carefully "plotting and planning and scheming" for the day when it would have total control over the performance calendar, Duly said with a laugh.
They currently have six plays on tap for 2018, including productions in February, April, June, August and October, and so far have five concerts booked and are working on dates for several others.
"We're going like gangbusters, and it's exciting," Duly said.
With help from a grant from Kandiyohi Power Cooperative to offset rental fees, the theater will also be available for use by non-profit organizations needing an educational venue.
With the expanded calendar, Duly said the volunteer board of directors acknowledged they couldn't do all the work themselves and hired Laurel Iverson to serve as operations manager of The Little Theatre.
Recent upgrades to the theater include LED stage lights, partially funded with a grant from the New London Spicer Area Fund. There are also plans to install an LCD projector and screen. They've also recently added an online reservation component to their website www.newlondonlittletheatre.com, however payments must still be made in person.