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Presenting… The Stissing Center

A tiny taste of the Great White Way has come to the Harlem Valley, thanks to the new Stissing Center, a performing arts venue in Pine Plains serving the entire Tri-state region.

Formerly known as Pine Plains Memorial Hall (PPMH), The Stissing Center is the brainchild of Jack Banning, Ariel Schlein and the late Christian Eisenbeiss. The three men partnered together in 2014 to buy the dilapidated Memorial Hall at auction for $199,000, with plans to renovate, and formed what would become a 510(C)3 nonprofit organization. They started small, opening the Pine Plains Laundromat in 2015 in the rear of the building’s basement.

That laundromat hearkened back to the building’s storied history. Memorial Hall was once the site of vaudeville and minstrel shows. It was the town’s first movie house, running films from Hollywood in the ‘30s, all the way through the ‘60s. It housed a coffee shop, a beauty parlor, a dance studio and retail stores. It was a mini-mall at one point and for many years, home to the town’s only laundromat.

Since that time, however, much has happened. The partnership among the original PPMH investors dissolved, though Banning remains the main driving force behind the project today. Brian Keeler was brought on as executive director of PPMH, and he’s done a great job of reaching out to the community, drawing in talent and presenting exciting performances. 

Banning and Keeler have both been able to inspire with  their vision and to keep an incredibly local vibe to the project. And, as they had hoped, the community has really rallied around The Stissing Center. From its inception to the present, local residents and business people have been involved in myriad capacities. And their participation has been welcome by Banning, Keeler and everyone else involved with the project. 

Just this past weekend, The Stissing Center held a grand opening “surprise” party for the community, celebrating all that’s been accomplished thus far and all that’s to come. The free event offered food and drink, music and dancing, and, best of all, tours.

People were delighted and amazed. The design of the building is an exhilarating mix of art and function. The original 1915 Second Empire-style building — once an architectural masterpiece and later a structural disaster — has been renovated to a modern version of its former glory. What a feat! 

Nearly 70% of the funding needed to complete the center’s capital building and renovation plan is complete. To meet the remaining 30%, the center’s fundraising arm continues to stretch out to would be donors (for details, go to www.thestissingcenter.org). In the meantime, construction carries on.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t events currently being held at the center. There are. On Sept. 7, world renowned musician Wynton Marsalis will headline the inaugural Benefit Concert for The Stissing Center, kicking off the Construction Concert Series for 2019. On Sept. 21, The Stissing Center, in conjunction with the New York Theatre Organ Society, will hold a screening of the silent classic, “Phantom of the Opera,” with live music. Molsky’s Mountain Drifters will perform on Oct. 18. The Bard Conservatory of Music will give a concert on Oct. 5. Spirit Family Reunion with Mail The Horse will perform on Oct. 19. And the Stissing Theatre Guild will present Selected Shorts from Plays by David Ives on Nov. 1 and 2.

We are so impressed with how the brains and the brawn behind The Stissing Center have been able to set a goal, work hard and pull this off. The entire region will benefit from having The Stissing Center in its backyard — none more so than the town of Pine Plains. What an incredible resource and amenity. We hope everyone appreciates the years of work that went into its opening, and looks forward, as we do, to being entertained for many years more.