(Featured photo is of Tyrone Butler on the track of land where a 150-seat theater is planned. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)
One idea has led to an almost 50-year journey for Tyrone Butler and the Augusta Mini Theatre.
He’s come a long way since creating his first variety show at the Wallace Branch Library in October 1975, but there’s one more dream he wants to see fulfilled – a 150-seat theater adjacent the Augusta Mini Theatre campus on Deans Bridge Road.
To complete the project, Butler and the Mini Theatre recently launched a capital campaign to raise the remaining $800,000.
“In the original project, which was connected to this building, there was no such thing as phase one and phase two. Phase one included everything,” he said.
The city earmarked funds through an earlier iteration of the Special Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax, and $1.3 million has been set aside for the organization.
“We have to come up with the total funding by Aug. 31 of this year. If we do not, there’s the possibility we could lose that funding,” he said.
The mini theatre has raised more than $400,000.
The Augusta Mini Theatre started at the library, but having a place to call its own was always part of the plan. Judith Simon Butler and Earnestine Robinson have worked along side Tyrone Butler from those early days.
In 2008, the theater moved into its Deans Bridge Road campus. The almost 10,000 square foot building sits on 11 acres and provides a space for arts education and life skills to children and teenagers, many of whom are from lower income households.
There’s a black box theater on the space, where the shows have been performed, but a seated theater was in the initial concept.
Butler said he received a lot of community support to get that project completed
Thousands of children have gone through its programs in almost 50 years. Butler addresses life issues through the plays he writes. They focus on bullying, gun violence and the dangers of drugs. Judith Simon Butler did a one woman show called The Johnny Williams Story that went into youth prisons for many years.
Those who participate in programs for four consecutive years are eligible for a college textbook scholarship. More than $60,000 in scholarships have been disbursed.
According to Butler, no child who has been part of Augusta Mini Theatre programs for four or more years has ever been incarcerated or dropped out of high school.
Some have gone onto careers in show business. Shandrea Evans is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles as has actress and singer Makeda Tene. Tene’s son, Innocent Ekakitie has had multiple roles in film and as a voice actor. Ekakitie turns 10 this month. Both Evans and Tene began at the mini theatre.
Others have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, librarians, plumbers and stayed in the Augusta area. They continue to enjoy the arts and support them.
“Lots of those students’ first arts’ experience was through the Mini Theatre,” Butler said.
The Augusta Mini Theatre will present Telling Our Stories Through Poetry at 8 p.m. May 19 and at 3 p.m. May 20-21. Tickets are $15.
With the 50th anniversary in a little more than 18 months, Butler reflected on what his involvement has meant to him and said “it’s been a joy.”
A woman once asked him why he did what he did.
“That’s a strong question. I could give this long speech, but it’s because we love them,” he said.
To donate to the Augusta Mini Theatre campaign, mail a check to the theater at 2548 Deans Bridge Rd. Augusta 30906; via Cashapp at $AugustaMiniTheatre or PayPal: @Augustaminitheatre.
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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