Group will occupy former bank building

Admittedly, military veterans and professional theater might seem like strange bedfellows at first. But Chris Meyer, a 14-year U.S. Army veteran and third-generation theatrical performer, proves that notion wrong, and he’s bringing the show to Beacon.

Meyer plans today (March 29) to sign a lease-to-own agreement for his Veterans Repertory Theater, or VetRep, to occupy the historic, 12,000-square-foot former bank building at 139 Main St. The group will move in over the next month. 

chris-meyer
Chris Meyer, who served in the U.S. Army for 14 years, is the founder, president and artistic director of VetRep. (Photos provided)

The nonprofit’s expansion from Cornwall, in Orange County, where it will retain a gallery and performance space, into Beacon was somewhat unexpected. “We had our blinders on and weren’t looking to go across the river,” says Meyer, 48. But after connecting with the development group Hudson Todd, which said it wanted to sell the former Mechanics Savings Bank to an entity that would benefit the community, he found a “convincing reason to expand into a whole new market.”

VetRep, which Meyer founded in 2021, plans to open over Columbus Day weekend in October and host its second Savage Wonder Festival of Veterans in the Arts. The first event, held in 2022 at the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center near Chester, featured theater, multimedia art, poetry, live music, dance and spoken word.

Already booked for this year’s festival is comedian Rachel Feinstein, who, through her marriage to a New York City firefighter, checks the “veteran-adjacent” box. (The members of VetRep’s staff and its playwrights are current or former military, law enforcement or first responders, or their immediate family members.)

The 2024 festival will coincide with completing the first phase of renovations inside the 1929 building, which Meyer says is in great shape. The group plans to construct a performance space on the first floor and two concessions, “but we want to keep the soul and the character of the building intact,” he says. VetRep hopes to later add a second theater and multimedia performance space. 

The Exit 12 Dance Company performed at the Savage Wonder Festival in 2022.
The Exit 12 Dance Company performed at the Savage Wonder Festival in 2022.

For more than 60 years, the building was home to Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, a historic Black congregation that sold the property in 2021 and will hold services this weekend for the first time at a new space in Fishkill.

Following Savage Wonder in October, VetRep is planning year-round programming, including during the holidays and for New Year’s Eve, Meyer says. It typically has the same troupe of actors perform a play written by a veteran and another established play that ties in. It also is organizing a gallery for artwork by veterans. 

Jericho Hill, a Seattle band whose members are veterans, played at VetRep’s Savage Wonder Festival in 2022.
Jericho Hill, a Seattle band whose members are veterans, played at VetRep’s Savage Wonder Festival in 2022.

Meyer comes from a family of artists and performers. In the 1940s, his grandfather portrayed villains on The Adventures of Superman radio series and was the original “Tonto” on The Lone Ranger radio serial, he says. His mother was a dancer and in the 1960s was part of the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. An aunt had a 30-year career as a soap opera actor. 

After graduating from college, Meyer acted and performed stand-up comedy in New York City and directed his first play in 2001, the weekend before 9/11. He enlisted shortly after the terrorist attacks, serving in Europe, Africa and Central Asia. He left Afghanistan in 2020 and returned home a few months later. 

Actors Krysta Rodriguez and Michael Gaston are shown at a reading in 2023 of Deborah Yarchun’s “The Calm Before.”
Actors Krysta Rodriguez and Michael Gaston are shown at
a reading in 2023 of Deborah Yarchun’s “The Calm Before.”

While there is a therapeutic component to the arts, Meyer says VetRep was not created to provide therapy. “We’re not here to help veterans,” he says. “We’re veterans who want to help the theater.” People will come once to “support the troops,” he says, but to keep them coming back, “it has to be because the content is awesome.”

For that reason, VetRep has no allegiance to any genre or subject matter, although it has performed primarily comedies, says Meyer. “If one [production] happens to be a war story, that’s fine, but that’s not our criteria,” he says.

To learn more about the Veterans Repertory Theater, and to buy tickets for its productions in Cornwall, see vetrep.org.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Simms has covered Beacon for The Current since 2015. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University and has reported for newspapers in North Carolina and Maryland. Location: Beacon. Languages: English. Area of expertise: Beacon politics

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1 Comment

  1. This is fantastic news. I attended the launch party for the Veterans Repertory Theater a few years ago. It is a wonderful group of theater practitioners, with a fascinating history of military service. I’m so pleased for everyone involved. [via Facebook]

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