Theater uplifts, entertains Waco area

By Stori Long

On a street once controlled by drug dealers and prostitutes, at a theater once used to show pornographic films, Mission Waco is working to create a haven where all people — regardless of social status, race or culture — can come together in community.

“People had given up on this neighborhood a long time ago,” Stevie Walker-Webb, director of Jubilee Theatre, said. “Mission Waco is showing us that this neighborhood is alive and fighting. Mission Waco is about empowering the people of this community.”

Mission Waco bought the condemned shopping area on North 15th St. in 1994 from an owner who was happy to be rid of the building that was located in an area with rampant crime and low property value. Under Mission Waco, the Texas Theatre became the Jubilee Theatre and the screen that once showed pornographic films now shows movies dealing with issues such as immigration, community and social justice.

After 18 years of being a central part of Mission Waco’s ministry, Jubilee Theatre was renovated last fall, adding new curtains, new technology and a larger stage. It reopened in October. With the new renovations came Walker-Webb, who began his job as the director of Jubilee Theatre in January. Walker-Webb, however, will leave the position in August to continue school in New York City.

For Walker-Webb, Mission Waco is not just a place of employment. It’s much more personal than that.

“I was a Mission Waco kid,” he said. “I was poor and had a pretty hard life as a child. But when I was about 12, a Baylor student came to my house and told us about Mission Waco Youth Center. They had to break down a few defenses but then I just fell in love with Mission Waco.”

With the help of his friends and mentors at Mission Waco, Walker-Webb applied and was accepted to the University of North Texas in Denton where he double majored in performance arts and sociology. After graduating in 2008, he felt the pull to return to Waco, a calling he struggled with at first.

“Coming home is always a little bittersweet,” he said. “I’ve changed, and I see my neighborhood with new eyes.”

Jubilee Theatre, for Walker-Webb, is the perfect place to combine his passions for performing, the Waco Community and ministry. He wants to use Jubilee Theatre to promote quality art that convicts, empowers and educates.

“We want to show quality art that challenges people to think about themselves and their place in the community,” he said.

Walker-Webb said he seeks to tear down the conception that the theater is “a high-browed” form of entertainment. He wants to use Jubilee Theatre to give theater back to the people and community.

Beyond showing movies, plays and holding music festivals, Jubilee Theatre works to aid community outreach. Every Wednesday and Thursday, youth of various ages from the Waco community come to Jubilee Theatre and do therapeutic performing.

“Theater allows the kids to take on other personas,” Walker-Webb said. “It becomes a safe place for them to discuss their fears, their hopes and their dreams.”

McKenzie Miller, children’s director at Mission Waco, echoes this sentiment.

“The kids have school plays and stuff,” Miller said. “But not all the kids necessarily get exposed to them, so this is able to give them an opportunity to do that. It also provides them with an outlet for things they are going through. And the kids love it. They love trying new things and getting new experiences.”

Most importantly, Walker-Webb wants Jubilee Theatre to be something that engages the community and promotes harmony between all different kinds of people.

“This is what heaven will hopefully look like,” Walker-Webb said, “All kinds of different looking people, of different races and different socio-economic. A lot of places are exclusive. We want this to be a place of inclusion.”

Jubilee Theater is also hosting “Waco’s Got Talent,” a citywide talent show at 7 p.m. March 17 to 19 that will give the citizens of Waco a chance to showcase their talent or to support those who do. Admission is $6.