The Lights! Camera! Action! may still be one year away, but the former Bow Tie Theater in Wilton Center was as close to movie magic as possible Tuesday morning when the new tenants cut the ribbon on the future home of the Prospector Theater Wilton.
The theater will be the second outpost of the original Prospector Theater in Ridgefield, which was founded six years ago as a first-run movie theater dedicated to providing meaningful employment to adults with different abilities.
Founder Val Jensen imbued the spirit of the organization as she addressed the crowd that had gathered to celebrate the moment. “We are so excited to be opening in Wilton. It is a big day for Wilton. We are launching a sparkling vision of hope for meaningful employment and to help people with disabilities to have meaningful work wherever they live. We’re going to help shatter the unemployment rate–2020 is about to get a lot better!”
The Wilton community came out to support its newest members at the event, with Selectwoman Deb McFadden and State Senator Will Haskell joining officers from the Wilton Police Department, neighboring tenants from the Wilton River Park Shopping Center, and town residents in attendance alongside a few dozen Prospects (as theater employees are known).
“The whole idea of people with disabilities is going to change, and people will see how talented and creative and hardworking we all are. And we are all very proud to be representative of Prospector Wilton,” Jensen said to claps and cheers.
The Prospector’s director of operations Ryan Wenke said the intent is to duplicate the experience moviegoers have in Ridgefield in the Wilton location. However, with the landlord just handing over the keys for the space, Wilton is still looking at about a year before Prospector Wilton opens–although with COVID-19 making customers uneasy about seeing movies, Wenke says the timing works to their benefit.
“We’re going to be demolishing in a couple of weeks, doing construction and then renovating. We want to bring the quality and the aesthetics of Ridgefield here. Our goal is to have a sort of soft launch September 2021. And by then, hopefully, there’s a vaccine out. It’s going to be something that people can look towards the future, once this dark period is done, there’s something exciting,” Wenke said.
Even though they were wooed by many other people in lots of other places, Jensen said Wilton is the ideal place for a second Prospector location. It took a long time and a lot of due-diligence before committing–but now she’s sure she’s found the right second home.
“Once we found Wilton and once we knew it became available, this was the place that we wanted to be. What I loved about it was the proximity to the Prospector Ridgefield so that we can share some of the resources–our production studio, our commercial kitchen. There’s so much support that can come out of the Ridgefield location. Also, Wilton was just such a nice location. We loved that it was already accessible. Having the beautiful village here with the nice parking and the handicap accessibility, that everything’s on the same floor, that there was already an elevator [to the staff room], that made a huge difference,” she explained.
The Wilton theater will be a replicable model of Ridgefield, not only in the same number of theaters (four) but in how it continues the organization’s original vision and mission.
“We were busting at the seams. There are so many talented adults with disabilities in this area who are such hard workers and want a job,” Jensen adds. “We insource all of the different jobs that we possibly can, from our production team, our maintenance crew. People hear our mission of employing adults with disabilities and they think, ‘Oh, that’s sweet,’ or, ‘Oh, how nice.’ But then they walk in, they see the real jobs that people are doing. That person lives independently because of their job. The transformation of lives, there aren’t words–you just have to experience it.”
One of the most recognizable Prospects is Kris Mann, who goes by the nickname “K-Mann.” He’s often front and center in the upbeat videos that employees produce and which run with the trailers before the start of the main features. After helping to kick off the ribbon cutting, Mann told GOOD Morning Wilton that he’s most excited about the opportunity another theater will provide to bring jobs to some very capable potential employees.
“It’s good because they can think positive about their job. They’re coming here and trying to work here. I’ve been in the Ridgefield theater for six years and I know if I could do it, they can,” K-Mann said, adding that his favorite role of the many he’s had is working in concession and training other employees. “I like to teach and train Prospects, and here in Wilton I can do the same exact thing, teach and train, it’s my favorite.”
Kimco, the company that owns Wilton River Park, released a statement about how pleased the company is to welcome the Prospector as the tenant moving into the theater.
“With our strong focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and diversity and inclusion in particular, Kimco applauds the Prospector Theater’s inspiring and impactful mission,” said Joshua Weinkranz, Kimco’s president of northern region. “Kimco is not only committed to the success of the center, but the entire Wilton community. Prospector Theater is a welcome addition to the neighborhood that will entertain, employ, and hopefully serve as a local favorite for years to come.”