Over a century after it was built, the Milton Theatre continues to evolve.
The building has housed a movie theater, a fire station, restaurants and retail businesses in its lifetime. After a storm damaged the building in the ‘60s, it sat vacant for 30 years. In the late ‘90s and early ‘00s the theatre experienced a revival, thanks to the Milton Development Corporation, but the building was foreclosed upon when the recession hit.
Then, in 2013, a Milton couple, Glenn and Lisa Howard, bought the building and leased it to a Middletown production company, Premiere Center for the Arts of Delaware. PCADE Director Fred Munzert, who has over 20 years of experience in the industry, manages bookings and events and seven mostly part-time employees.
“The owners bought the building out of bankruptcy because they didn’t want to see it torn down or used as something other than a theatre, which I thought was a great thing for them to do,” Munzert said. “We were approached to look at the building and within minutes were like, ‘This is a cool place. It’s a good project and we want to be involved.’ We opened the doors a few months later.”
PCADE works closely with a nonprofit, Calliope, formed earlier this year to ensure the Milton Theatre remains a viable arts venue.
Calliope’s goals include reinstalling a balcony to increase seating capacity, installing a sprinkler system to increase capacity limits and funding theatre education programs for children. The goal of a new sound system was recently met; new lighting will come next.
“We want to be a national-level venue where we will really be able to compete,” Munzert said. “Where, as far as bands and touring groups require, we’ll have all of that [equipment] in house. Everything will be digital.”
The biggest change since PCADE came into the picture, according to Munzert, is the amount of programming.
“In 2017 we’ll offer about 300 events in-house,” he said. “We offer a little bit of everything. That’s been part of our success. We’re open every weekend, and if you don’t like what’s happening Friday night, you’ll probably like what’s happening Saturday night.”
In addition to performances, the PCADE and the Milton Theatre offer performance classes for kids age 6 through 16, including an acting class, a musical theatre ensemble and an advanced musical theatre program. The students in the advanced program travel to Walt Disney World every summer to learn and perform.
Calliope, in an effort to maintain a vibrant arts scene in the area, is hoping to “Keep Milton Weird.” They’re doing that, and raising money for the theatre, the Milton Fire Department, the Milton Historical Society and Casa San Francisco, by hosting Zombie Fest 2017 Oct. 19 - 21.
It begins Thursday night at the Milton Theatre with a screening of the Halloween classic “Trick ‘R Treat” and the presentation of the winners of a horror movie trailer contest. On Friday night, Nashville jazz, R&B and funk band Dynamo will perform.
Saturday will feature food trucks, vendors, live music and makeup stations on the grounds of the Milton Historical Society, at the corner of Union and Magnolia streets. At 8 p.m., there’s a zombie walk – a parade of sorts – on Union Street.
“People come fully decked out as zombies,” Munzert said. “It’s just a really fun time.”
Also coming up: Tim Grill, a Philadelphia stand-up comedian with spina bifida, Andrew Soros, a celebrated violinist, and Men in Motion, which is described as “upscale adult entertainment for women.”
For more information about Calliope and the Milton Theater, visit miltontheatre.org.