Tea doubles audience at Aurora

DULUTH - Authentic British tea, bone china tea cups, fairy cakes, blue ribbon biscuits and women with British accents can now be found before every Saturday matinee performance at Aurora Theatre in Duluth.

The women speaking the Queen's English and proffering tea and scones are members of Daughters of the British Empire, an organization for women of British or Commonwealth ancestry. In their second year running they, teamed with Aurora Theatre, offer patrons a taste of Britain before each show while supporting their chapter's charity, the Mountbatten House.

"Two dollars off every ticket will be donated to their organization," said Al Stilo, director of sales and marketing at the theater who came up with the tea idea. Last year the theater began Saturday matinee performances, but the crowds didn't show and their attendance numbers were down, he said.

It was the upcoming English themed play, "Enchanted April," that got Stilo thinking of England.

"I thought it would be a great idea to do tea and I knew the shop Taste of Britain in Norcross because that's where I go for Christmas gifts for my wife," he said.

Once he got backing from Taste of Britain owner Edna Berkshire and Daughters of the British Empire members Aurora's matinees have never been the same.

"When the word got out (about the tea) we were sold out with a waiting list," Stilo said.

Before the afternoon tea concept, Stilo would sell an average of 100 tickets. Now he sells around 200 - a full house - thus doubling the attendance record and offering his customers a truly unique experience.

"I can't believe we're having tea in real china," said Jennelle Robertson, a theater patron Saturday afternoon. "It's delightful to have something so elegant that's not just thrown together."

Each Saturday for the next few weekends theater patrons can find rows of poised, delicate bone china tea cups brimming with fresh, hot breakfast tea and a selection of homemade goodies. But near the sugar, cream and milk is a large glass container filled with dollar bill donations, a reminder of why the Daughters are here.

"All the money goes to Mountbatten," said Lyn Hovanesian in a Yorkshire accent.

Mountbatten House, a nonprofit assisted living home located in Texas, is financed through residents and assisted by fundraising done by the Daughters of the British Empire.

Last season the Daughters raised more than $1,000 in four weekends for Mountbatten and hope to do even better this year.