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February 01. 2012 11:44PM

Ioka group wants to attract 1,000 'premiere members'


The historic Ioka theater in downtown Exeter was auctioned off last month. (JASON SCHREIBER)
EXETER — Community support for a plan to resurrect the Ioka Theater continues to grow.

A membership campaign is well under way as the Exeter Theater Company tries to build a base of supporters who want to see the historic downtown landmark reopened as a community theater.

The nonprofit group has been given a deadline of March 31 to attract 1,000 “premiere members.”

“Our goal is to pace ourselves with 100 members a week. Word is just starting to get out. We’re really trying to get as many people involved in this project as we can,” said project manager Carol Walker Aten.

“Premiere” membership levels range from $50 to $2,500 and come with certain benefits, such as having a name placed on a seat or a plaque.

Support from the community will be key to the Ioka’s future success after it was recently sold at a foreclosure auction to Kensington Exeter LLC, a company owned by Kensington resident Alan Lewis.

Lewis wants to see the Ioka become a theater that’s embraced by the local community and operated by the Exeter Theater Company, a nonprofit formed in 2009 to preserve the Ioka as an arts and cultural center offering a wide range of programs, including live music, theater, film, multi-media, dance and community events.

The theater group, which now has about 75 volunteer members, plans to lease the Ioka from Lewis for $1 a year for 99 years.

Supporters say Lewis is giving the Exeter community a gift by purchasing the theater for $600,000 and offering such a lease agreement, but the building will still require renovations and other work that will cost money.

The membership drive is one way to show Lewis that there is community support for the theater, which ceased operating in 2008.

After the 1,000-member mark is reached, Aten said a business plan and total costs for the project will be put together. A more significant community fundraising campaign will then begin to raise the money to restore, reopen and operate the theater.

“Mr. Lewis is prepared to make a very generous donation to our community, but before he makes that donation, he wants to be assured that the community cares. We’ve agreed with Mr. Lewis that signing up 1,000 members is a tangible way of showing the community’s support for the Ioka,” Exeter resident Tony Callendrello, chairman of the theater group’s board of directors, said in a statement.

If the membership goal isn’t met, Callendrello said the Ioka’s fate will be left up to Lewis.

Those who become “premiere members” will be enrolled in a drawing to win two free tickets to every show produced during the first year of the new Ioka.

In addition, businesses that recruit 50 members will have their name placed on the Ioka’s marquee for a week.

Theater group officials said the money donated by the new members will be returned if the theater doesn’t reopen.

To become a member or to volunteer, visit exetertheater.org or e-mail info@exetertheater.org.

Contributions and memberships can also be sent to Exeter Theater Company, P.O. Box 275, Exeter, N.H. 03833.

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