YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The fact that Youngstown has not one, but two, beautiful theaters has everything to do with its past as a powerful center of money and industry.
But times have changed. If both Powers Auditorium and Stambaugh Auditorium are to remain viable venues for live performances, there has to be a unified effort.
That is now happening.
In a surprise deal announced last month, Stambaugh’s management team has been hired to take over operations of the struggling DeYor Performing Arts Center.
The Youngstown Symphony Society, which owns and operates the DeYor, will pay Stambaugh an undisclosed monthly fee for its services.
The DeYor – which comprises 2,300-seat Powers and the 600-seat Ford Family Recital Hall – is an anchor of downtown.
Powers is also a historic landmark that possesses the gilded grandeur of another era.
But a beautifully restored baroque décor isn’t enough. To survive, a theater needs butts in its seats. Regularly.
The pandemic-related shutdown of live events has brought the DeYor’s problems to a head. But the Symphony Society, which operated the building mainly as a home for the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra (which it also owns), has been preparing for this day for years.
“In the past, we relied on the Youngstown Symphony to fund the building,” said Chris Jaskiewicz, vice president of the society, in a December interview. “Now, we are flipping that and using the building to fund the orchestra. Let’s use it as many ways as possible to get money out of it.”
Both Powers and Ford have been underused for years. And Stambaugh’s team is now tasked with correcting that situation, once the pandemic ends and restrictions on capacity are lifted.
Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer of Stambaugh, wants to book shows that play to each venue’s strengths.
For Powers, that is musical theater.
Youngstown really is a theater town and Powers is a perfect place for touring Broadway shows. Such shows sell tickets in this market.
And Easy Street Productions, the semi-pro musical theater company that is headquartered upstairs at the DeYor, has drawn crowds to Powers for years.
Touring musicals can be the main event for a night on West Federal Street, with its restaurants and bars for pre- and post-show gatherings.
Why is Powers perfect for theater? Because it has rigging over its stage to move sets during performances. Also, trucks can pull up behind it and easily unload equipment onto the stage. It also has an orchestra pit.
Stambaugh lacks these things.
Ford Hall is used mainly for classical concerts by the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, for which it is utterly perfect. Musical ensembles and smaller theater productions also have used the venue.
Opened in 2006, Ford has excellent sight lines from each of its 600 seats. It would be great if another local theater company would make Ford its home, although that is unlikely.
The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra may be another vestige of the city’s glory days. But it remains an irreplaceable part of its present and future, a cultural gem.
It also stands to benefit from the new arrangement.
Moving the YSO’s crowd-pleasing pops concerts to Stambaugh – which was the orchestra’s home from the 1930s to the 1960s – is a great idea.
The move to stately Stambaugh would be a homecoming that would bring the YSO full circle.
And any orchestra would instantly sound a tad better just by moving to Stambaugh, which has world-class acoustics.
The Symphony Society’s Jaskiewicz indicated the board is not opposed to the idea.
Stambaugh was literally made for live music.
Powers was designed to be a movie theater. The sound quality of live music there varies from section to section.
But any show – music, theater, comedy – gains cachet just by being in Powers or the 2,500-seat Stambaugh because they are beautiful and historic buildings. Youngstown is lucky to have two such places.
So the stage is set for 2021. The live entertainment industry should return to normal by October – if not sooner – for indoor shows.
That means there will be a flurry of concerts, theater, comedy and other tours eager to book dates in the third and fourth quarters.
There is pent-up demand on the part of promoters and performers.
And as soon as the majority of people are vaccinated and feel safe to go out in public, they’ll start to buy tickets again.
With the new joint operations agreement in place, Stambaugh, Powers and Ford could be positioned to take advantage of this coming boom.
Pictured: Powers Auditorium has been mostly silent since March, when the pandemic began. The ornate venue will be operated by Stambaugh Auditorium’s management team under an agreement announced in December.