After more than a year sharing a home with several other businesses, the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater has settled on a new home in downtown Meridian.

The nonprofit that served more than 800 students in classes and 150 students in its performance program this year plans to move to the new location in January.

The new building comes with a 50-seat studio, allowing the theater arts organization to bring back its small-cast performances and intimate performances for cast members’ families — something it lost when moving to New Ventures Lab. It will also provide a space for the nonprofit’s administrative staff and space for more classes.

The building is a mile south of New Ventures, off Meridian Road, on Pennwood Street.

BUYING THEIR OWN SPACE

For the last several years, the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater has been scouting buildings or land to purchase. They hired a capital campaign consultant, completed a feasibility study and have had “many meaningful conversations with potential donors,” said Autumn Kersey, executive director of the children’s theater.

“Arts organizations that are healthy and that do really well are organizations that own their own space,” Kersey said. “But there are many arts organizations that don’t own their space and they have to beg, borrow and plead to operate. We don’t want to be in that position forever.”

Founded in 2012, the theater arts organization spent the majority of its founding years in the former Farmers and Merchants Bank building, 703 N. Main St., across from Meridian City Hall.

Kersey said settling in the bank building allowed the small arts organization to realize its potential.

“That was the moment we recognized that potential because people could identify us with a space,” she said. “Our program exploded.”

From there the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater partnered with other organizations and solidifying its core values.

When the bank building was sold to a developer in 2017, the children’s theater relocated to New Ventures Lab, an office space for business startups in the old city hall.

“It’s been interesting maneuvering our theater life, which is very intrusive and often disruptive, where you’ve got computer guys trying to write software … and you’ve got kiddos singing off key in the next room,” Kersey said. “It’s been a wild ride for all of us.”

The relocation, however, allowed the nonprofit to try touring across the valley, expanding its reach so more families and students would have access to the nonprofit’s theater arts programs and performances.

The old city hall is also slated to be redeveloped into multistory residential and commercial buildings. New Ventures Lab tenants, including the children’s theater, were advised to move out by March 2019.

So while TVCT wanted to build or buy a new space, the timeline “did not coincide with our need to find space now,” Kersey said.

“(Buying a new space) is our end game,” she said. “It is going to be a few years before we can raise enough money to achieve that end game.”

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THE NEW LOCATION

The children’s theater holds its ticketed shows at leased spaces throughout the valley. Their adult company tours local schools and libraries, and their youth companies perform in schools and at the Boise Little Theater.

“That will continue to be our model because we do want to continue to serve the entire valley, but this new space helps us reclaim what we lost when we had to leave (the former bank building),” said Kersey.

She said the new building’s 50-seat suite will allow the nonprofit to pick back up its interactive shows for smaller audiences — shows like “Charlotte’s Web” that Kersey said people really enjoyed.

“They came to downtown (Meridian) to see those shows,” said Kersey. “We are very excited that we will be able to reclaim that level of programming in this new space.”

Over a year, the new location will cost the nonprofit $36,000 more to rent than their location at New Ventures Labs, which was only $600 a month.

Kersey said TVCT is taking a look at how they will be able to afford the hike without increasing the cost of classes — $10 a hour for each student. The nonprofit is also simultaneously receiving an increase in scholarship requests.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Kersey said. “If we have a family and they have a young person who needs us, we get them into whatever program they need to be in no questions asked.”

Kersey said the nonprofit was “doing OK” financially, but taking on the lease was a new challenge.

“We stretch a dollar, we usually try to get two and a half out of one,” she said. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to honor (the challenge).”

To make up for the new costs, the nonprofit has been having conversations about hosting more classes, and will continue to look for more sponsorships and donations.

Every year students in the theater’s production program ask local business owners to meet and talk with them about sponsoring that year’s performance.

Kersey said this is part of the program’s two key focuses: leaderships skills and the performance of a play that “wows the audience.”

“Oftentimes people go see young people perform and they’re expecting, ‘Oh, it’s going to be painful, kids are going to sing off key and the sets will fall down, but won’t that be cute,’” said Kersey. “We don’t do cute. We do quality professional plays, we just happen to do them with young people.”

During the month of October and November, the nonprofit also runs its Change Maker membership campaign to get more people involved.

More information about the Treasure Valley Children’s Theater or becoming a member can be found at treasurevalleychildrenstheater.com.

“It is the kind of work that changes the world,” Kersey said. “It is the kind of work that makes kids go, ‘I’m important, I have something to say, I have something to offer.’”

Patty Bowen is the Meridian Press reporter. You can reach her at pbowen@idahopress.com.

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