Marking its ten year anniversary this July, the (new) Dreamland continues to offer much more than meets the eye.
In the not so distant past, Nantucket’s youngest residents only knew The Dreamland as a shuttered, spooky building downtown that had played movies once upon a time. The family business, which once thrived at its South Water Street location, struggled in the 1990s and eventually closed. The property had survived for more than one hundred years in various locations around downtown as a meeting house, a church, a roller skating rink, a hotel and more. By the early 2000s, the theater seemed destined to be- come yet another restaurant or high-priced condominium. But then, a group of civic-minded, well-heeled summer residents decided they wanted to prevent that from happening. They formed a nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding the Dreamland and making it the cultural arts cornerstone that it is today.
On Sunday, July 22nd, The Dreamland will host a 10th anniversary celebration of this new chapter in the theater’s history. It was a decade ago that the 501c3 nonprofit entity was formed, plans for construction began, and the new Dreamland was born. The “Dream Believers” celebration will offer an evening full of star power, live music and dancing. The event will kick off The Dreamland’s plan to raise a fund that will secure the future of the organization. To help begin this campaign, The Dreamland recently received an extraordinary gift that will match any donation contributed this summer dollar for dollar up to $250,000.
“The Dreamland is finally becoming one of those special anchor institutions on Nantucket, bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together to share their dreams, visions, and passions,” said Wendy Schmidt, founder of ReMain Nantucket and The Dreamland’s president emeritus.
Today, the Dreamland is open 364 days a year and operates at a fevered pace. Each year, the theater screens more than 1,400 first run and independent films, more than thirty comedy shows, and a variety of concerts including well known acts like the Weight Band. The Dreamland also hosts a variety of dance performances, live broadcasts, and author events featuring some of the most compelling writers and journalists alive today, including Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, and CNN’s David Gregory, who also serves on the theater’s board of directors. Last year, the Dreamland even got a call from Vice President Joe Biden who wanted to present his latest book from its stage.
“My original expectation for The Dreamland was to sell movies and be open year-round. Really everything else that has happened since then has been gravy and icing on the cake,” says Kathy Penske, one of the Dreamland founding board members and current secretary of the board. “I’m especially thrilled that the full-time community has embraced everything the Dreamland is doing. It’s so much more than I originally thought it was going to be. All the programs, everything they are doing, it’s all brilliant and it’s only going to get better.”
But all this was built over time. In its early years, the Dreamland struggled to stay in the black financially. For the same reasons that the old Dreamland closed two decades ago, diminishing returns from first run movies in the age of the Internet and a theatre program that, while providing an immense amount of education and value to island youth and the local theatre scene, operated at a loss.
Under the leadership of the Dreamland’s executive director Joe Hale, the Dreamland’s programming has expanded far beyond the original scope and in turn produced the income and fundraising required to keep the organization alive and open to the Nantucket community 364 days a year. “When I had the opportunity to get involved and help establish the Dreamland as a cultural hub on Nantucket, I jumped at the chance,” says Hale, now a year-round resident of the island with his wife Linda. “These last couple of years have been an incredibly rewarding challenge. The senior team that we are fortunate to have assembled all deeply care about the Dreamland and what it means to our community.”
This past winter, using grant monies awarded by the state, generous anonymous donors, and a small surplus in the budget, Hale’s team renovated the facility’s second floor studio theater, adding all new, comfortable seating as well as improvements to the sound system. Most recently, they converted the building’s beautiful Harborview Room overlooking Nantucket’s waterfront to a third screening room, which will allow a much wider variety of film presentations moving forward. “We are non-stop all summer long,” says Hale, “but the Dreamland has also become a winter refuge for the year-round community offering not only movies, but unique, native programming.”
Ten years since the formation of the Dreamland nonprofit, the board has grown from less than ten members to more than twenty-five, half of whom work on Nantucket and call the island home year-round. Now local restaurant owners, bankers, teachers and hoteliers have joined the original “Dream Believers” in furthering the Dreamland’s mission as the cultural heart of the community. “We all think the future looks pretty bright here on Nantucket,” says Joe Hale. “And I for one am just so grateful and glad the Dreamland gets to play a role in that.”