Built originally as a single-screen movie house in 1925, the Leeds Center for the Arts is today a restored and timeless treasure sharing the arts with the community through musical and drama performances, live music and occasional films and comedy.
The upcoming 2023/2024 season promises to be as exciting and entertaining as ever. It opens Aug. 11 with Matilda the Musical, which runs through Aug. 27, and is followed by Singin’ in the Rain JR (Nov. 10-19) and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Feb. 23-March 3), closing with The Three Musketeers (May 3-12).
The Leeds’ fundraising event, the inaugural “Main Event,” will take place on Saturday, Sept. 23, and feature an evening of performance from favorite area actors and singers, as well as cameo appearances from Winchester celebrities and special deals with downtown restaurants. During the month leading up tothe event, Winchester’s Main Street will be transformed into a gallery of donated silent auction artwork with proceeds split between the theater and contributing artists.
On Tuesday, Aug. 22, a reception will be held at the Leeds beginning at 7 p.m. to unveil the biddable artwork. Following the reception, the artworks will hang in participating Winchester businesses from Wednesday, Aug. 23 through Saturday, Sept. 23.
Bo List, Leeds’ director of development and an award-winning educator, playwright and theatre director, shared insights about the theater, its upcoming season and the creative team’s dream productions.
Q: What is a little-known fact about the Leeds Center for the Arts that may surprise people?
A: We’re one year older than Ale-8-One (founded in 1926) and we’re figuring out howto celebrate our 100th anniversary. We are talking about it now—and we’ll be ready to go with a good party.
Q: Can you share a bit about the process of what goes into choosing productions?
A: It all starts with figuring out what productions we want. We look at what others are doing, what works and what doesn’t in Winchester, what our audience wants to see, and what they’d love to see if they knew it was out there.
Q: How many shows are selected each year?
We select four to five shows. We want children andfamilies to come together throughout the year and we want to give adults something to see, so our balance reflects the diversity of programming we try to present.
Q: How do you determine the order for the shows?
The season should open with a bang and this year, that’s Matilda. We’ll save our non-musical production for the spring—that’s when we want something fun and different, something with more grown-up appeal. That’s The Three Musketeers. Plus, one show for young performers only, and a less-familiar musical. We fill in the gaps in between with concerts and other events—anything we can do to bring people together.
Q: What is your favorite show?
A: A favorite show I love that I worked on and had the best effect on the audience is Parade.(Parade is the Tony Award-winning musical that tells the true story of Leo Frank’s wrongful arrest for the murder of a girl near Atlanta, GA, in 1913). I was part of the producing team for the Chicago premiere of that show. The audience was blown away.
Q: What are some dream productions the Leeds’ creative team would love to bring to the stage?
A: The musicals, Chicago, Hair and Cabaret, which all contain very mature content, and 42nd Street, which requires expert tap dancers. We’re not quite ready for these shows yet, but they feature prominently in our daydreams about what kind of work we’d like to share with our audience!
Q: Why is now a great time to support local arts organizations?
A: These organizations tend to suffer first when there’s a crisis, like the pandemic, and are the slowest to recover. The Leeds has been very fortunate. We were hit hard, but we have a loyal fan base and donors. I wish everyone knew that when they sign up to volunteer, make a donation or buy a ticket to the theater—these wonderful treasures that exist in their towns and cities—they’re making a very strong investment in the quality of life in their community. They’re not just sharing some time: They’re giving something important to everyone.