Playhouse Promises a Blockbuster Season to Mark 100 Years

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown Playhouse will celebrate its centennial with events on and off stage, including a blockbuster show.

The venerable theater on the South Side is marking its 100th anniversary this year and will celebrate throughout the 2024-25 season – its centennial season – which will begin in September.

It will unveil its upcoming season of shows at a special event Saturday evening at the theater.

The icing on the cake will be the announcement of a hit Broadway show that will get its regional premiere in the upcoming season at The Playhouse.

John Cox, chairman of the board of directors, is working with producers of the show, which will include at least one professional guest star from its touring company.

Saturday’s event will also include snippets or scenes from each show in the upcoming season.

“There are almost 90 people involved, and they are rehearsing now,” Cox said. “There will be a scene from each show.”

Saturday’s season preview event will start at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, click HERE.

The Playhouse launched the Youngstown area’s vibrant community theater scene a century ago and remains its most prominent organization and bellwether.

The theater’s management strategy has undergone changes in recent years to keep pace with trends onstage, at the box office and on an economic level.

Bob Gray and Dana Rae Dunnevant in a scene from The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “Peter Pan” in 1984. The theater will unveil its 100th season Saturday, April 13.

For nonprofits like the Playhouse to survive, consolidation has become necessary to cut costs. After dealing with decades of high turnover rates in its executive office, the Playhouse entered a landmark contract in February 2022 with Stambaugh Auditorium to take over its managerial duties. That means everything from building management to publicity to box office to bookkeeping.

Cox says the arrangement has been working well, although a few tweaks are forthcoming.

“We are learning what we know about each other, but it will continue,” Cox says.

The theater has decided to resume responsibility for some aspects that it’s better equipped to handle.

“We’ve taken back control of our volunteers,” Cox says. “We used to have a lot of volunteers, and we’re getting them back and taking a more personal approach to it. They assist us with organizational stuff like sound and equipment.”

The Playhouse’s technical director, who oversees sound, lighting and set building, is now a shared employee who also works at Stambaugh.

The Playhouse also wants to take back control of its Facebook account.

Cox says collaboration has become mandatory.

“Marriages between organizations are the only way we all are going to survive,” he said. “There aren’t enough ticket buyers like there used to be. We’re not selling out shows in advance like we used to. [Sales] have become a last-minute thing.”

Cutting costs is half the job. Organizations also must  “think outside the box” to find new revenue to make up for declining ticket sales, according to Cox.

More and bigger grants are one option. Another is launching an instructional arm, which the Playhouse is preparing to do.

Looking Ahead

More changes could be afoot at the Playhouse in the future.

As part of its effort to find the right mix of contracted and in-house management, the theater would like to again hire an artistic/executive director. It has not filled the position since contracting with Stambaugh, but Cox feels it is necessary.

“We’re looking for money [to pay the salary] for the next three years,” he says. “We need a central figurehead to lead us, instead of the board, as far as [growing the theater].”

Other plans call for redoing the interior, including new carpeting and new seating, and adding a central aisle.

The aisle would decrease seating capacity, but “the seats would be wider and more audience friendly,” Cox says.

Currently, the rows extend from one side of the auditorium to the other with aisles only along the side walls.

Plans also call for redoing the lobby and the bathrooms, and possibly beautifying the walls of the auditorium, which are currently painted cement blocks.

“We’re trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Cox says.

Another goal is to find a new space for straight plays that is larger than the current Moyer Room, which has a capacity of 70.

“The Moyer is great, but we could do more if we had double that capacity,” Cox says.

Musicals will remain the Playhouse’s big draw. “We have [stage rigging] and wings, and we can do big shows,” Cox says.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.