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Liberty Theatre Campaign Falls Short but Plays Will Go On
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The Relight the Liberty Theatre campaign came $500,000 short of raising the $1.7 million it hoped to raise by a Dec. 31, 2022, deadline.
   
Sunday, January 15, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The future of the Liberty Theatre in Hailey is up in the air after efforts to save it proved unsuccessful.

The Liberty Theatre Company board voted not to accept the Sun Valley Museum of Art’s offer of the building after the Relight the Liberty fundraising campaign fell $500,000 short of the $1.7 million that was determined necessary to fix structural problems in the 85-year-old building.

The building cannot be reopened to the public until those problems are addressed.

 
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The Liberty Theatre was a lively place that brought in people from out of town before it closed.
 

“It makes me so sad,” said Hailey resident Betty Grant, who never missed a play or concert at the theater while it was open. “I wish I had money enough to take care of them because it’s such an iconic place. I had no idea the campaign wouldn’t succeed.”

Joan Davies, who saw “Gone with the Wind” at the theater in 1939, agreed.

“I’m very sad that the campaign didn’t succeed, but I think the group did the best they could,” she said. “The theater brings so much to our community. It’s a cultural asset to the community and we definitely need it. In my wildest dreams I thought maybe somebody might have the ability to step forward, but where that angel is I don’t know.”

The Liberty Theatre Company was founded in 2021 after the nationally recognized, award winning Company of Fools was disbanded during the pandemic. Company of Fools had called the theater home since Bruce Willis invited the company to leave Richmond, Va., and put down stakes in the Main Street theater he had purchased in 1994.

 
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Liberty Theatre Company members—all of whom had performed with Company of Fools--introduced themselves to the community during an evening of music and stories at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden in the summer of 2021.
 

The deco theater is a small town’s version of the historic Egyptian Theater in Boise. Though the 212-seat theater does not have the lotus bud pillars that the Egyptian does, it possesses a certain elegance, thanks to its deep red curtains that were picked out by Demi Moore, its box office and balcony.

Willis gifted the building to Sun Valley Museum of Art after the museum and theater company merged. But the museum and theater group unmerged in 2021 after Company of Fools’ artistic director left, the pandemic shuttered theater in the valley and the museum decided to concentrate on visual arts and education.

Jennifer Wells Green, the museum’s executive director, said the board will discuss options for the building on Tuesday.

“At this time the Sun Valley Museum of Art has just begun to explore a range of opportunities and possibilities, including the sale of the property. Out of respect for The Liberty Theater Company's fundraising efforts we have not pursued other options until now," she said. "We applaud the passion of the Liberty Theatre Company board and recognize that their decision was made in the best interest of the organization. We look forward to supporting their productions in the future."

 
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The late John Glenn and Denise Simone were among those who took part in more than 20 years of plays and musicals at The Liberty Theatre.
 

"We certainly supported the efforts of the Liberty Theatre Company to try to raise the money to refurbish it,"added Ellen Gillespie, a board member of SVMoA. "They really gave it a great try.”

Claudia McCain, the Liberty Theatre Company’s board president, said the board felt there was too much risk to the Liberty Theatre Company to move forward without the $500,000 it had planned to use for an endowment to maintain the building after its refurbishment. The company will concentrate instead on  presenting live theater that delights, challenges and entertains the community.

McCain said the Liberty Theatre Company would have been formed to fill the void left by the dissolution of Company of Fools even if there had been no Liberty Theatre.

The Sun Valley Museum of Arts helped fund the theatre company’s first season and gave it an abundance of theatre assets, McCain said. And the theater company has raised the full budget necessary to fund its performances for the 2022-23 season.

Company actors are already working on two new performances—a reading of “I Take Your Hand in Mine,” which will be staged Feb. 14, 17 and 18 at The Mint in Hailey, and a fully staged production of “Red” March 9-19 at the Sun Valley Community School Theatre.

“We ae going strong. We have two shows coming up and we’re excited about both of them. And the artists are planning the next season,” McCain added. “We’re here to create theater—we’ll just be floating around from place to place, rather than doing it at The Liberty Theatre, as we’d hoped.”

McCain said there would have been a big void in a community that prides itself on its arts had a new company of artists not stepped in following the dissolution of Company of Fools.

“We have a great community of artists here and we want to fill the void. We have a passion to continue to make as high-quality theater as we can,” she said.

More than 400 donors took part in the campaign, including numerous individuals who offered $10,000 and more to the theater’s fundraising campaign. McCain also praised the donations the Relight the Liberty campaign received from the Rotary Club of Hailey, 100 Men Who Care, Spur Community Foundation and the Hailey City Council.

“I’m so humbled by the generosity and endorsement and support of the community for what we were doing and for what we continue to do,” she said.

Pledges made by donors will be voided. And those who gave cash will be given the opportunity to have their money returned or to redirect it to the theater company’s future productions.

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