Dan Brown knew he had to think creatively to keep the Atlantic City Rescue Mission afloat.
His out-of-the-box idea: to create a black box theater with the helping hands of the shelters’ homeless residents who would both build and act on its stage.
The profits from its performances would go directly back to the Rescue Mission.
“People who were previously great supporters of the mission are now coming to the mission for help,” said Brown, ACRM president and CEO, regarding the recent closings of several Atlantic City casinos, and with that, the loss of jobs for thousands of Atlantic County residents. “(The theater) is where Downbeach and Uptown come together. If we all hunker down in our little part of the city, we won’t be ready for the future. But if we plan together and stick together, Atlantic City will come back.”
Before taking on the role of president and CEO in 2013, Brown was a well-known theater producer who put on shows in Atlantic City, New York and Las Vegas. He used his skills and connections from his former gig to create the shelter’s theater, named Theodore Spady Hall after a former Rescue Mission resident-turned-employee who passed away earlier this year.
The theater is now complete and its first show is currently in production, aptly titled “A Christmas Miracle.” It features a cast of current and former Rescue Mission homeless residents as well as local and regional actors who are volunteering their time and talent, including Eddie Varley, a New York actor.
Varley, who will perform as Santa, said being a part of the project has been an honor and he’s excited for what’s to come of the theater.
“I can’t wait to get my big Santa suit on and demand everyone sing ‘Jingle Bells’ with me,” he said.
The theater is in a building down the road from the Rescue Mission, which it’s owned for several years, and formerly used as a multipurpose space, and before that, a casino dealer school.
“A Christmas Miracle” tells the story of a child whose father is in the military and deployed over the holidays, and her wish is to have him home. Part of the performance includes a choral performance by a group of former homeless veterans. Brown said watching the veterans rehearse the song “Silent Night” brought a tear to his eyes. Even recalling the memory made him emotional.
“These guys risked life and limb for our freedom, but somehow they ended up on the street,” he said. “Now, they’re working to give back to the center that helped lift them up. It’s beautiful.”
Another goal of creating the community theater was to help put a human face on homelessness in Atlantic County by encouraging the intermingling of homeless residents and the community both on stage and as spectators.
“The Atlantic City Rescue Mission is more than what you think you see when you drive by,” Brown said. “The people we serve in the mission are just that, people.”
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If you go
What: “A Christmas Miracle” holiday performance presented by the Atlantic City Rescue Mission’s new theater, Theodore Spady Hall.
When: 7 p.m. daily through Saturday, plus matinees 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Theodore Spady Hall is at 1923 Bacharach Blvd.
Cost: Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children 5 and up, and free for children under 5 accompanied by an adult. Proceeds benefit Atlantic City Rescue Mission programs that aim to meet the physical, emotional and other basic needs of the homeless, the poor and those who are bound and bruised by addictive lifestyles in Atlantic City and the surrounding communities, organizers said.
For information: Call 609-345-5517, ext. 124.