The surprise announcement of the closing of the Vive Les Arts Theatre in Killeen last week could have a far-reaching effect on performing arts in cities around Fort Hood — with the nearest community theater in Temple.
In Cove, which has no community theater of its own but a strong theater arts program offered through the Copperas Cove Independent School District, the planned Aug. 31 closing of the Killeen theater will make it increasingly difficult for local performers to reach the stage.
According to public information officer Kevin Keller, the city of Cove does not offer grants for the arts like the city of Killeen does through its Arts Commission.
“The City does not offer any such grants,” Keller said in an email Tuesday. “City Council has allocated Hotel Occupancy tax funding for events intended to support tourism.”
For students in the Cove school district, performers have a history of excellence on stage, according to district spokeswoman Wendy Sledd.
In April 2016, four members of the Copperas Cove High School theater program earned recognition against six other schools at the District 12–6A UIL One-Act-Play competition at Harker Heights High School.
In March, Copperas Cove high was one of three schools selected to advance to the bi-district one-act play competition at the Midway Independent School District Performing Arts Center in the District 8-6A District Contest.
CCHS students performed “The Crucible” this year.
Sledd said the city’s two junior high schools and some of the elementary schools also provide theater programs.
All school district productions are performed at the 1,200-seat Lea Ledger Auditorium.
The school district also provides funding for the arts through its Education Foundation.
Meanwhile, supporters are teaming up to save the VLA Theatre after the nonprofit group’s board of directors announced the shuttering of the 40-year community institution’s doors July 6.
Millie McKell, 37, a 12-year resident of Killeen whose family has been active in VLA productions, said the board’s decision to close the theater was a shock to the community.
“It was very out of the blue,” McKell said. “This is our second home. This is an outlet for families that have had to deal with crime and want to escape it and express themselves.”
McKell is trying to raise $300,000 to make capital improvements, purchase updated items and pay debt. On Friday, McKell launched an online fundraising page on GoFundMe.com and opened a bank account for people around the county to donate funds to keep the theater above water.
“The plan is to focus on getting New Leadership, New Board of directors and new direction with a new rebranding of the name,” McKell said in an email July 7.
“Theater is our way of expressing ourselves, it’s our family and all of our friends are in theater,” McKell said. “There’s so much talent here; it’s very sad to let it go to waste like that.”
Dennis Williams, 75, a 37-year veteran of VLA productions, said a lack of leadership on the theater’s board led to the announcement. “It’s been a ship with no one at the wheel.”
Williams was part of the theater’s very first production in 1980 — and will be part of possibly its last, a nine-night run of “The Little Mermaid” opening July 21. Williams is cast as Grimsby, the caretaker of the play’s male lead, Prince Eric.
Williams was there when the theater moved to its current building in the 3400 block of S. W.S. Young Drive in 1991 and during the firing of former artistic director Eric Shephard, whose departure in 2012 Williams tied to a steep decline in audience numbers.
“I would not argue that there was some decline in audiences a couple of years before that happened, but it was a minor decline,” Williams said. “After Eric left, it fell off the charts.”
Williams has previously served on the group’s board of directors.
Williams said Stacie Dishon, a member of the executive board, broke the news to the cast of the production about 6 p.m. July 6 at the theater.
“(Dishon) said when she told us that maybe it might be reinvigorated with a different name, a different board,” Williams said. “But there are a lot of rumors swirling around.”
Williams said the theater not only improved the quality of life in Killeen but provided a creative outlet for military families.
“The loss to the community is powerful,” Williams said. “After 37 years, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
The theater is scheduled to close its doors Aug. 31, according to a paid advertisement placed in the Friday edition of the Herald.
Most members of the board have not been reached for comment.
The theater is funded in part by allocations from the city’s hotel occupancy tax because of its tourism draw and the Texas Arts Commission.
Millie Reeves McKell started a GoFundMe account under Millie Reeves M. The title is Save our Local Community Theatre.