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There's no place like home: Pennsylvania Youth Theatre continues search for new venue

PYT elf.jpg
Pennsylvania Youth Theatre
Pennsylvania Youth Theatre's search for a new venue will ensure future classic performances like "Elf."

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Pennsylvania Youth Theatre currently is in rehearsals for performances of ”The Wizard of Oz" in May.

Among the more memorable lines from the 1939 motion picture classic is, "There's no place like home."

As the youth theatre searches for its future home, the fantasy classic's character Dorothy's heart-tugging wish dovetails into reality.

The youth theatre will be displaced when the Banana Factory, its home for 25 of its 38 years, is razed in April 2025 to make room for the $22 million South Side Bethlehem Cultural Arts Center at the site at 25 W. Third St.

The proposed complex would leave PYT with less square footage than needed — up to 4,000 square feet less than the desired 10,000 square feet to accommodate its acting, voice and dance classes.

And so the search for a new home continues.

“We’ve been looking since last year,” PYT Managing Director Valerie Reinhardt said Tuesday at the PYT studios.

“We’ve visited potential places, mainly in Bethlehem — one, if we needed it as a last resort, is within walking distance of the Banana Factory. Maybe even rent a place in the meantime until we find the perfect setting.

"We’re set on looking for a place that in the future, if we want to expand (our enrollment), it could accommodate us.”
Valerie Reinhardt, managing director, Pennsylvania Youth Theatre

“But while it might be something that works for us now, we’re set on looking for a place that, in the future, if we want to expand [our enrollment], it could accommodate us,” Reinhardt said.

'Need $1.5 million, bare minimum'

Locating the ideal new home for the youth theatre is but one challenge facing PYT. Another is raising enough money to buy the venue and also completely renovate it.

A capital campaign has been slow to come together because of a lack of support. PYT now has about $250,000 in hand, far short of what it needs.

PYT ladies.jpg
Phil Gianficaro
Pennsylvania Youth Theatre Managing Director Valerie Reinhardt, left, and Artistic Director Jill Dunn Jones discussing the continuing search for a new venue .

“We’ll need $1.5 million, at bare minimum,” Reinhardt said.

“We’re just starting the whole pledge part, because the advisory committee didn’t take off until recently. We couldn’t get people involved. So the ball literally just got rolling.”

Compounding fundraising matters, PYT Artistic Director Jill Dunn Jones said, is the lack of a new venue.

“You can’t apply for a grant until you have a building. And not having that tangible space in front of you makes it hard for people to give you money.”
PYT Artistic Director Jill Dunn Jones

“You can’t apply for a grant until you have a building,” Jones said. “And not having that tangible space in front of you makes it hard for people to give you money.”

PYT’s primary purpose remains the education, empowerment and enrichment of children through the art of theatre.

PYT is a comprehensive performing arts school, with 650 students (Pre-K-12) in year-round programs offering classes in three core areas: acting, singing and dancing.

But it also is a professional producing organization, bringing three to four main stage, literature-based plays to an audience of 10,000-16,000 annually, 8,000 of whom are school groups.

Jennifer LoConte, communications director for ArtsQuest, which operates the Banana Factory, said Tuesday a final date this year when tenants must vacate the building has not been determined.

'To grow, we need more space'

But PYT knew it would be looking for a new venue as far back as 2018.

“ArtsQuest told us then about the talk of just renovations,” Dunn said. “They said they intended for us to stay. But we knew internally that in terms of renovations we’d lose two of our studios. We knew we’d need a new place then.”

PYT having a home of its own is exciting to Reinhardt and Dunn — and also bittersweet.

“This has been home to us for so long."
PYT Managing Director Valerie Reinhardt

“This has been home to us for so long,” Reinhardt said.

Added Dunn: “It’ll be like leaving your own home. There are so many memories attached to this place. It’s like a kid being attached to his or her home when they decide to leave.”

The search for a new stage continues. The search for funding streams, too.

But the bottom line, Reinhardt emphasized, is continuing to serve the most important part of the theatre — the students.

“Find somewhere and get in somewhere with minimal interruption,” she said.

“But for us to grow, we just need more space.”

To make a donation, go to: 123pyt.org.