by Terry Rogers
Although Delaware has moved into Phase II during the COVID-19 State of Emergency Reopening Plan which allows 60 percent capacity for indoor programs, John Paul Lacap, Marketing Manager for Milton Theatre explained that social distancing requirements do not allow the 110-year old theatre to expand past the Phase I 30 percent capacity requirement. As a result, the organization is conducting an online fundraiser to purchase a mobile stage for their outdoor Quayside event area.
“Because of COVID-19, we are finding that more people are attending our outdoor events than our indoor events,” Lacap explained. “Of course, this is because they feel safer in an open area than inside a building. For this reason, we are trying to plan more outdoor events over the next few months and, to make this work properly, we need a stage.”
Milton Theatre Quayside, which is pronounced “key-side,” is named in honor of Milton’s shipbuilding history. A “quay” is a platform that lies alongside water for loading and unloading ships. Quayside premiered in 2019 and was the location for last year’s annual Concert for a Random soldier as well as a St. Patrick’s Day concert series. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the theatre planned to hold 12 free summer movies or concerts. Recently, five picnic tables and 22 Adirondack chairs were sponsored by community members and as well as businesses to promote Quayside’s grand re-opening for the summer.
“With the reduced capacity inside the theatre, we felt it was time to install a mobile stage because you can’t really put on a performance without a stage,” Lacap said. “We are already using Quayside regularly. Every Thursday at 6 PM, we hold Quayside Nights with an outdoor Happy Hour that features live local bands. There are beer tents, frozen drinks and snacks available for sale. Admission is $4 per person or people can rent a picnic table that seats eight for $35. We still require social distancing even outdoors.” The theatre plans to add donor plaques to the fence for generous donations to the mobile stage.
In addition to raising funds for the mobile stage to be used for Quayside, the theatre is conducting a capital campaign to raise $2.5 million over the next five years. The capital campaign, known as the Milton Theatre Renaissance Initiative, is raising money to renovate the original balcony area of the theatre which will almost double seating inside the building and to restore the original marquis.
“We are known for our eclectic line up of shows,” Lacap said. “Every Friday night, we have a stand up comedy show. Even the performers must social distance on the stage right now. We have had drag shows, cabaret shows, dog shows, bird shows, plays. For four weeks in the summer, we have a Kids Summer Camp and they perform a show every Friday at Noon and at 2 PM. Again, this is a modified theater show with strict social distancing. The kids are not allowed to be within six feet and they cannot hold hands. Our Saturday shows vary and may include plays, musical acts and more.”
In order to meet the requirements under the State of Emergency, strict social distancing is practiced in the audience. Every other row is blocked and every audience group must have three empty seats between them. For example, if a husband and wife attend a program, they may sit together. If the next group has five people, they must leave three seats between them and the couple. These requirements mean that the theatre can only seat 90 to 100 people. Quayside’s capacity is 400 to 500 but with social distancing, tickets are limited to 120.
Although Milton Theatre is always looking for volunteers, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have put all volunteer recruitment on hold. Anyone who is interested is welcome to reach out through the website at www.miltontheatre.com, but Lacap explained they are not sure when they will begin accepting volunteer applications again.
Milton Theatre originally opened in 1910 and has suffered greatly over the years. It has also not always been a theatre. The building has been a basketball hall, fire station, social center and a community stage over the years. In addition, retail businesses as well as restaurants called the Milton Theatre home. It was not until 1930 that the building became an art deco movie house, showing silent films until “talkies” were available. It was also a popular location during the 1960s and 1970s for live music acts, many of them national recording artists.
The building was damaged by several storms that flooded downtown Milton, including the Storm of 1962. After the last business that used the building closed its doors, it was in danger of being demolished until the Milton Development Corporation, a 501(c)(3) purchased the property in 1999. They rehabilitated the building for use as a multi-use performing arts and cultural center. It is also used as a cinema house, venue for community programs and available for special events. Financial issues close the theatre for a few years, but it reopened in 2015. Since that time, it has been a catalyst for a flourishing arts and entertainment scene in Sussex County.
Anyone who wishes to donate can do so on the website by clicking on the Donate button on the homepage. It will take them to another page where they can make a secure donation.