A Gala Event

WILTON – Back in 1972, some residents of Mason had a bright idea – to bring the magic of theatre to local kids. The project was named Andy’s Summer Playhouse, after local author C.W. Anderson. This venerable institution, now housed in the former Grange Hall in Old Wilton Center, has helped thousands of children and teens discover the lure of the stage, and propel many of them into a career in the arts.

Of course, none of this comes cheap, and Andy’s is largely reliant on fundraisers to meet their expenses.

One of the biggest of these, the Annual Winter Gala, will be held from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 3, at the Monadnock Country Club in Peterborough. Tickets are $35 for adults and $15 for kids 18 and younger.

“This is really our biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Operations Manager Aimee LaRue Haley. “This year, we’re trying to involve more members of the community, who might not be aware of Andy’s, and get them to come in and learn about our programs and become more familiar with our wonderful organization.”

Haley said that fundraising is a year-round concern for Andy’s, as the group fights to remain solvent. Nearly 50 percent of the Andy’s Summer Playhouse annual operating budget comes from donations and contributions.

For many local kids Andy’s Summer Playhouse is their home away from home, where they can be who they truly are and find a community of like-minded peers and adults who believe in them.

“We hold various events throughout the summer,” she said. “We have a couple of mail-in fundraisers, as well as having raffle prizes at each of our shows. All of the tuition we charge goes right back into the organization, as well as whatever grant money we receive. We also ran a campaign over this past summer where we bought all new chairs for the theatre. We offered up sponsorships as a result, where community members could purchase a plaque on the back of each chair, featuring the name of a loved one, or whatever message they would like to put there.”

Haley said that the Winter Gala is a relatively informal affair, with the emphasis on creating a warm and inviting atmosphere for the attendees.

“It’s really just like a big party,” she said. “We have a sit-down, family-style meal, along with appetizers and dessert. We also have a silent auction, which will feature many wonderful prizes from local businesses, as well as Andy’s family members. For instance, we have some beautiful hand-made wooden items and kitchen gadgets, as well as gift certificates from local restaurants and tickets from nearby theatres. We also have some specifically-themed gift baskets, referring to shows we’ll be performing over the next year. Of course, we’re not going to describe those prizes specifically, because it’s kind of a secret.”

Haley said that the event has changed substantially since its inception in the winter of 2008, that year of the infamous ice storm.

“The whole event was different back then,” she said. “When we started, this was a major deal, as we had to raise a significant amount of money just to keep the doors open. As it was, we managed to raise $20,000 that first year. At that point, it was more of a basic performance, but we’ve changed it over the years.

“It’s become more informal, but it also allows people to be become more involved. There is still the performance aspect, but we also feature dancing. Last year, we had the Temple Dance Band, and this year we’re featuring DJ Christian Furze of Dream Day Music & Entertainment.”

Haley said that, apart from the fundraising aspect of the event, it also allows Andy’s alumni and families to get together.

“This is a time for people to meet up and reconnect,” she said. “The kids pretty much all go to different schools over the year, so this is a chance for them to get together. We also announce the Alumni Scholarship Award at this event, so that’s a big deal, as well.”