December 6th, 2018 was day one. Wendy Griffin showed me a picture of the Masonic Temple and asked "have you ever been in there"? It had been over twenty years ago but I had been to an international cultural festival and seen Chuck Mangione perform as a headliner. I stood nervously as I waited to get Jerry Neighwood's autograph, who would sadly die in a plane crash after another performance in corning years later, and when I was waiting to get Chuck's autograph a man in front of me said that his daughter couldn't make the concert because she was in a car accident that evening, long story short... Chuck Mangione went to the Corning Hospital ICU and played for her sitting on her hospital bed. So, yes, yes I had been in that building. I remember thinking the first time I climbed the stairs, went down a long narrow hallway and was thrust into a theater larger than any other one in Corning at the time... Wow! - how is this just sitting here and I've never seen it?! The seats were steep, and although we sat pretty far up in the hall, you could see the entire stage from every single vantage point in the theater. Not just the front row like most theaters without balconies that I had been in at the time, but it was like you had the best seat in the house.
Later, when we were researching the history of the building we would discover that the cornerstone was laid in 1919, the date was December 6th.
There have been many attempts to convert the building into residential housing but given the desire to preserve the main theater hall by the local municipalities, those efforts were never brought to light. A few years ago there was another attempt to make the space a theater but the effort stalled and ultimately the model was perceived by the public as more of a private business and private theater.
I have lived in the Corning area for forty years, and my family goes back generation after generation from my Uncle Gary Griffin being the first Valedictorian and Class President of Corning Community College, to my Grandfather William "Bud" Corcoran working as the chief dining steward at "the club" after he returned from world war II and my great grandparents living in the "castle" armory as low income housing during the depression as my great grandfather was the custodian for St. Mary's church and would ring the bells by hand.
When I heard that the Masonic Temple was slated for demolition, much like the armory was years prior, I was determined to do what I could and to give the community one last chance to save the theater. Not to run a business for my own, but to create a true public theater where we can all create community one performance at a time.
I have a history with construction, I started a small catering company who needed commercial kitchen space and found it very difficult to find, and as a former educator I have fostered a love of music and creativity in both theater and music in thousands of children, but they would often complain that once they were done with school, there was no reason to stay in the area. To be honest, if they were going to pursue theater or dance, stand up comedy, and even visual or other performance art fields... they had a point.
So we shared this idea with a number of people in the community, we shared a vision of a place where we could foster and celebrate local talent as its developing. Where you could attend a dance recital and actually see everyone on stage. We dreamt of a space that has a commercial kitchen for local business to rent out if they need or weddings and receptions could be handled by an in house staff. Where community could come together regardless of political views and laugh together, to experience the magic of performance, storytellers, swing dances, teen events, slam poetry, all forms of music and musicians. Where everyone, regardless of their bank account could have a place that felt safe, and new experiences were life changing for the performers and the audiences, where a family of six can go to an event together and not be worried about a two year old having a melt down (ok... that may be a little specific to us). And families with students that have special needs can celebrate their children and their accomplishments on stage in productions while realizing that they are not alone in the challenges they face because we are one community. And where the spark of creativity can be nurtured, appreciated, and developed so that our creative stars don't say they "can't wait to leave town" but that they feel like this is home for them, where we can nurture and develop creativity and light that spark or fan that flame that can last a lifetime.
We believe that this is truly a "Public Theater" and we look forward to filling a piece of the puzzle that will take Performance, Education, and Outreach and turn them into Community.
Our Mission "To enrich the social, cultural, and economic growth of our region by bringing people together through affordable access to live performance, excellent performing arts programing, arts education, and community events".
We look forward to Creating Community, One Performance at a Time.