There’s no place like home. That mantra has put several Cincinnati area community theaters in a good place: Owning a facility means scheduling flexibility, room to rehearse and the opportunity to grow. For example, Mariemont Players’ century-old schoolhouse in Plainville, just east of Mariemont, has served the company well since 1960; and Footlighters presents its shows in the Stained Glass Theater, a converted church on York Street in Newport.
Joining those lucky ranks is The Drama Workshop (TDW), another venerable community theater that recently established its home at the onetime Glenmore Bowl, built in 1928.
“Having this facility has been a game changer for us,” Mary Stone, TDW’s enthusiastic president, told me awhile back. “Our ‘new’ building is such a great leap forward for us and for the community. We’re making a positive impact. We saved a unique, historic building, the first bowling alley in Cincinnati.”
The Glenmore Playhouse, as it’s now called, is making a difference in the “Cheviot Entertainment District.”
“There’s been a ripple effect,” Stone says. “A coffee house opened up that’s two blocks away. An artists’ collective is literally a block away. The neighborhood is changing, and we’re part of it.”
It’s not the first time TDW has saved a building. The group, founded in 1954, performed for years at the Westwood Town Hall (built in 1884), operated by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission. When it was slated for demolition in 1966, TDW stepped up to a five-year lease — for $1.
Now they have options. “For instance, we always wanted to do a holiday show,” Stone says, “but we never could do that at Westwood since it was used by other groups for their activities.”
TDW’s show last December, The Man Who Came to Dinner, ran for three weeks and sold out several performances. “We had to turn people away,” she says.
“I’m a West Side native,” Stone continues. “My parents own a business in Cheviot, right up the street from the Glenmore, so I regularly passed by this building. I remember going to TDW’s shows when I was a kid, just 10 minutes away at the Town Hall. That was much more accessible for my family in terms of cost and getting there. Seeing these shows was a big deal. Community theater is great exposure to the arts. That’s actually the role this kind of theater plays.”
So is having a building others can use, she points out. “We’ve started getting a lot of other groups saying, ‘Hey, we would love to do a staged reading there.’ ”
It’s helped with local awareness of TDW, too. “You wouldn’t believe how many people did not know the theater,” Stone says, “even in that local Westwood community, although we’ve been around since 1954.”
A lot of sweat equity by volunteers helped to remodel the bowling alley into a performance venue. “We completely gutted the building,” Stone says. “We kept some of the pine wood from the bowling lanes. We needed to work on the acoustics. A carpet store in Cheviot gave us some carpet that made a big difference. For the most part, everything in the bowling alley is gone, although a stray bowling pin occasionally turns up.”
TDW plans to expand the facility with further renovations, including another entryway, permitting more seating (presently limited to 99 by the fire code). They also hope to add a ramp and a wider doorway for ADA accessibility. For the first time, TDW is doing fundraising and grant writing. Stone is grateful to ArtsWave for a generous grant and nearby City Savings Bank for its first-time season sponsorship.
In 2013 and 2014, for the second season at the Glenmore, a diverse array of shows is planned: the comic musical Nunsense (October), 1940’s Radio Christmas Carol for the holidays, the riveting courtroom drama 12 Angry Men (March) and Suite Surrender (May) about feuding Hollywood divas. These productions can have longer runs since paying rent isn’t a factor, and that builds attendance.
So if you’re ready to head to Cheviot right away to see what Stone and her fellow theater volunteers have created, TDW offers its first-ever summer show starting Friday (and running until Aug. 11), an old-fashioned melodrama, Love Rides the Rails, with wicked villains, a gallant hero tied to the tracks and a rescue in the nick of time by the beautiful heroine. Tickets (just $15) can be ordered by calling 513-598-8303. Leave your bowling shoes at home.
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