At 15 years old, Kentucky born and bred, Tim Mitchiner was 6-foot-5 and an obvious basketball player until one pivotal day when a theater teacher came into his freshman choir classroom, looking for actors to be in the new school’s first musical, “Man of La Mancha.”
“When he found out I could carry a tune, he and my choir teacher convinced me to audition for the role of Don Quixote,” Mitchiner said.
Soon after, Mitchiner quit basketball for the drama program and immersed himself in theater until he graduated from high school. He even had the opportunity to travel to New York with the drama department and meet the Broadway cast of “Man of La Mancha” and his Don Quixote counterpart.
“That first experience changed my life and ultimately led me to where I am today,” he said.
Where he is today, literally — and where he has been every day from morning until night for the past two months - is doing manual labor with the help of other volunteers to refurbish a 100-year-old building in downtown Lindale into a 7,000-square-foot space to house the Lindale Community Theater.
The realization of this vision, which Mitchiner said is “pulling a theatrical rabbit out of our hat,” took root in his high school choir room 43 years ago, but for the next three decades of adulthood, theater actually played no part in his life.
Mitchiner’s father was a minister, “a master speaker and story teller,” while his mother was a university professor.
“I had an early exposure to music in the church and a keen sense of the spoken word,” he said. “But my mom was a true academic, with a healthy dose of practicality.”
Though he considered becoming a DJ and worked briefly in TV and radio, Mitchiner chose to forego the arts and follow a more practical professional path. The impact of his high school theater passion was shelved as he pursued a career in construction. For 25 years, he lived in the Austin area, laboring and managing in the field of home renovation and disaster restoration.
In 2006, Mitchiner and his wife, Cindy, moved to Mineola. Retired and with the support of his family, he decided to get involved in community theater at Mineola’s Lake Country Playhouse. He dove into his newly revived passion, cultivated friendships with theater supporters in the area and began to dream of creating a community theater in the neighboring town of Lindale.
When Mitchiner sought an appropriate space to develop his vision, he found the Holy Family Catholic Church Family Life Center. The space was large enough and wasn’t heavily used by the church, so an arrangement was reached in which the new Lindale Community Theater would give 50 percent of their ticket sales to the church in exchange for use of the facility.
Mitchiner spoke warmly of this church, which “lets their good deeds speak.”
“ To feed the poor is their main mission,” he said.
And during the four years of partnership, both the theater and the church benefited, building a program to expand the arts in East Texas while supporting the charitable mission to feed the area’s needy.
All along, though, Mitchiner and the Lindale Community Theater family dreamed of creating their own home space. Through the seasons, their reputation for quality stage productions spread. Attendance grew. They maintained a strong base of administrative support behind the scenes and talent onstage, admirable for a relatively small market such as the Lindale community.
In October 2012, with financing provided by Dr. James Russell, Lindale Community Theater purchased an historic building in downtown Lindale. Formerly a church, a long-time grocery store and more recently a Western Auto, it had everything the group needed: sufficient square footage, convenient location and, as Mitchiner said, “just the right amount of funky.”
“We are transforming a 100-plus-year-old building into a theatrical space like no other in East Texas,” he said.
Since construction began during Thanksgiving week, Mitchiner has been working 65 to 70 hours per week on the project while directing the theater’s next production, “Crimes of the Heart,” which will open in the new performance space Friday.
And while many who are closely involved with the project say Mitchiner has nearly single-handedly built the Lindale theater from the ground up - both the program and the facility - he is quick to give credit to countless others who have worked on this and supported him in his endeavors.
He cited Luis Ramirez, whose clear vision convinced him that the design concept would work on a practical level. He acknowledged the structural engineering by Michael Bugh, structural construction by Poole Construction, electrical work by Tyndell Electric and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor.
“I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in the dream,” Mitchiner said.
Those people consider themselves fortunate to be part of the dream and find inspiration in Mitchiner’s passion.
“Tim loves theater as much as anyone I know,” said Tyler resident Dwain Hare, local actor, theater supporter and Lindale Community Theater construction volunteer. “I have worked with him on the new theater since mid-November. I have taken a few days off here and there, but Tim has pretty much been there every day from early until late.
“There are a number of folks who have helped in this endeavor, and we will all be proud when the doors open for the first time, but no one more so than Tim ... I know he is looking forward to presenting good work onstage and doing it in this wonderful facility.”
Mitchiner said he is constantly encouraged and surprised at the amount of art in this area.
“From performance to visual/fine art - I don’t think any large metropolitan area has anything on us,” he said.
The new space will play host to art-based events beyond the community theater’s annual production season.
For example, local visual artists will have their work on display during the run of “Crimes of the Heart;” and on February 15-16, the community theater will hold “An Evening with Mark Twain,” featuring national artist Kurt Sutton.
“We’re also looking at hosting local high school theater troupes as they present the full version of their competition pieces,” Mitchiner said. “And our children’s theater will be starting again in February under director Candace Brooks’ capable hands. Additionally, future plans call for us to more and more become a home to all types of art, making us a unique resource in the area.”
Beth Walker, Lindale resident and community theater actress and supporter, said Mitchiner is uniquely gifted to create such presence.
“He encourages people of all ages with the importance of the arts in our lives,” Ms. Walker said. “His daddy was a successful Baptist minister and his mom a sensitive, wise instructor. I believe she gave him his incredible insight into people and their motivation. He seems to have an uncanny way of relating to people and a wonderful talent for expressing his desires, both on stage and in ‘real life.’ He has made such a positive impact in the Arts in East Texas.”
Of his own legacy, Mitchiner called himself “a practical visionary.”
“My philosophy is Dream, Talk, Do. You have to dream about it, talk about it, and then do it,” he said. “Many dreamers go through life with one foot nailed to the ground. I would like to open hearts and minds to possibilities. Whether it is this building, the stories on stage, the work of the children’s theater: I want to be known as a dreamer who is capable of bringing dreams to fruition.”
Then he chuckled and said, “Or maybe, it’s as my wife says, and I am just too stupid to quit.”
“Being retired and with the never failing support of my family, my hope is to feed - and create in those new to what we do - the passion to explore the human condition,” he added. “We in the theater (and other performing arts) need more people to tread the boards, lend their technical skills and weave the magic that is the stage.
“But we also need to encourage those that we do all of this for - our patrons. We want them to laugh, cry, experience. There’s a reason that people have been attending theater for thousands of years - it entertains, inspires and joins us together in a way nothing else does.”
Beth Lytle is a yoga instructor and painter who lives in Flint.