Gaslight Baker Theater still shines brightly at 100
By Kristen Meriwether
Making it to 100 years old is kind of a big deal. For any person, organization, or even town, hitting the century mark usually entails a big party, possibly a red carpet, and lots and lots of candles.
The year 2020 was supposed to mark 100 years of entertainment at the Gaslight Baker Theater, which started as a vaudeville theater in the 1920s, transitioned to a movie theater in the 1950s, and has been a community theater since the late 1970s.
A big gala was planned, memories had been collected, and a full season of shows was scheduled. Instead, thanks to the pandemic, the theater is having to make do with capacity restrictions, digital streams, and rehearsing in smaller groups to keep the actors safe.
The theater isn’t just missing out on a big party and celebration. They are missing out on the opportunity to unveil their lofty vision for the future.
“It was sad,” Jason Jones, President of the Board of the Gaslight Baker Theater, said in an interview with LPR December 4th. “We were really looking forward to being able to talk to people about where we were going.”
The community theater has been a staple in Lockhart putting on six shows per year, including this year’s wildly successful Harvey, and conducting kids camps every summer as part of their educational outreach.
But as Lockhart grows and develops, the theater sees itself expanding the educational offerings to adults, adding a black box theater in the space next door for smaller capacity shows, and updating the lobby (a welcome edition for anyone who’s had to wait in line for the restrooms at intermission).
Jones, who took the helm of the board in January, has an optimistic outlook and believes all of these things can still happen—it just may not be on the timetable everyone had hoped.
Like many small businesses and non-profits, the pandemic was a brutal gut-punch to the finances of Gaslight Baker Theater. Unsolicited donations, SBA loans, and very understanding banks have helped keep it afloat.
The theater normally has an annual fundraising gala that, through donations, ticket sales, and ad sales, will bring the books into the black for the year. But the board kept delaying it with hopes the pandemic would wane, allowing more patrons to fill the seats.
It did not, and as the calendar turns to December, Jones and the board decided to use the Christmas show as a fundraiser.
It wasn’t just the idea of bringing in revenue that appealed to Jones, but bringing something back to the community that would unite people together.
Along with city, county, and state health officials, Jones spoke with mental health professionals about the toll the isolation was taking on people.
“One of the things we discovered was that, especially towards the end of summer, people were really flipping out. They needed something to do, something to be around people,” Jones said. “Even if you are masked, at least you are seeing people. I think the need for that drove it.”
With COVID guidelines constantly changing, the theater decided to put on a set of vintage radio shows. This allowed each individual show to rehearse on different nights, reducing the number of people in the building together, and limiting potential exposure for the actors.
“That’s really what it came down to, what can we do safely?” Jones said. “It keeps us in a situation where we can, not assure the safety of anybody, but make it as safe a place as possible for our actors and patrons.”
The actors wear masks during rehearsals and will wear them right until they get on stage when the shows begin on Friday December 11th.
The theater had hoped to get up to 50 percent capacity, but by placing three open seats between groups, Jones said they are currently operating at around 30 percent capacity.
The shows will also be streamed online, with details coming soon according to the theater website.
Leave a Light on
The pandemic of 2020 may have altered the party plans for the Gaslight Baker Theater, but Jones said they will celebrate when it’s safe enough to do so.
“We decided whenever we can go back, it will 100 plus whatever,” Jones quipped.
For now, the only “candle” on this year’s celebratory cake is the lone gas light that sits outside the theater.
“This light is for the future,” Jones said. “We are going to be here, and keep our light lit and be prepared for whenever we can get back together.”
He added, “we will fight to our last breath to keep the place open and be ready to go when the time comes.”