Is there anything the Vintage Theater doesn’t play host to?
Not really, it would seem, and that could be why the all-ages visual/performing/literary arts space is still going so strong as it rolls into its fifth anniversary, which will be celebrated this weekend with two events: an all-ages concert on Jan. 17 and an over-21 gala on Jan. 18.
In speaking with Conor O’Brien, one of the co-founders, it’s clear that there are a myriad of factors that have lent themselves to the Vintage’s success.
The Vintage Theater began operations in January of 2009. Though O’Brien and Theresa O’Connor are the co-founders, O’Brien said that since its inception, there have been several people who have made the whole thing possible, supporters and team members, in addition to the duo. There is also an executive board comprised of 12 to 15 individuals, the officers of which are currently Mandy Boyle, board chair; Brent D. Pennington, treasurer; and John Farkas, secretary.
“There’s always been so much support, from our own circle of family and friends to artists and musicians, and the general public at large,” O’Brien said.
In five years, the Vintage has seen more than 2,000 individual artists pass through its doors and held over 1,000 events.
“We are very unique,” O’Brien noted. “In addition to not only jumping across all artistic mediums, we’re not just a punk rock venue when it comes to music, and so on. We cover a wide spectrum of styles and mediums and genres and I think that really has become our greatest asset, yet our greatest challenge. It’s hard to manage something that’s ever-changing and adapting.”
So how have he and his colleagues been able to do such a thing for five years running?
“A really, really strong, dedicated leadership team,” he said. “It’s really just constantly educating oneself, constantly being open to feedback, assessing at every point, ‘How was this? How was that?’ It’s expecting whatever ideal you set for yourself, understanding that once you reach it there will be 10 other plateaus to overcome.”
O’Brien has watched the arts scene itself change over the years.
“I think the scene overall has become stronger, and organizations such as ourselves and others have really come into their own, matured, and find a scope, a niche they’re trying to represent.”
He’s also seen a change in himself through working there, a way for him to grow as a person.
“The next best thing, in my opinion, to a profession which allows you to travel extensively is a profession that allows you to be a locale which others travel to,” O’Brien said. “I meet musicians and artists from all over the world, every state in the country. I’m constantly learning about my own community and my own country from those in it. It’s beyond just being exposed to art, music, theater, film, poetry, prose and all the things that go along with it; it’s about the human experience.”
The Vintage is there to give back to those who help them by being a part of the organization.
“In five years, we’ve given close to $250,000 in stipends to local artists alone,” O’Brien said. “That’s not counting stipends and travel pay to artists fees to international artists, or charitable fundraising we’ve done not only for the purpose of the Vintage itself but the dozens of charities we’ve partnered and held events with.
“In five years, for an organization like this… that amount is probably our five-year budget, maybe more. We are really proud of that.”
Though we’re just about two weeks into the New Year, O’Brien is clearly excited about what’s coming up for the Vintage.
“The award-winning production we mounted of a 1960s ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ which was received so well by local an international communities, spawned a core ensemble of actors, playwrights, and theater artists who have worked together in projects since then, and will be part of our 2014 stage reading series. There will be six stage readings with dedicated playwrights in order to help give them a strong presence and help cultivate their pieces.
“There’s a redesign shift in the visual arts calendar in the sense that artists will have a standalone grand opening, and instead close on one of Scranton’s First Fridays, which we love being a part of. This way, the artist will have a night dedicated solely to them.”
O’Brien also pointed to the large demographic the Vintage caters to and how it plans on helping facilitate that as an ongoing thing.
“One of the things we executed in the latter part of 2013 that we’ll carry into the new year is a sliding scale ticket price for some events,” he said. “There are a lot of shows that have a wide, all-ages appeal. The standard is $5 to $10; if you can only afford $5, that’s fine and your support is very much appreciated. But maybe you’re older and more financially stable and you can give more; that’s also great. It’s not only about us being able to operate and keep the lights on; we also want to ensure that the 15-year-old high school student who dreams of being in their own band can afford to come to a show.”
The Vintage Theater truly is a place for everyone, of every age, and every artistic taste.
“As it is, we are the gateway drug to the arts,” O’Brien said with a laugh.