Struggling Rust Belt Theater Will Leave Space at Calvin Center

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Faced with declining revenues and lingering financial woes brought on by the pandemic, Rust Belt Theater will leave its long-time home at Calvin Centre after its current production ends. But the theater’s owner vows to continue presenting shows in other locations.

Founded and operated by Robert Dennick Joki, the theater has been based in the historic building at 755 Mahoning Ave., just west of downtown, for well over a decade. In a message posted on Facebook Monday, Joki said the pandemic “hit us hard” and continues to present a challenge.

“With declining ticket sales and significant operating costs at the building, it is no longer possible to hold on to our space” at Calvin Center, he wrote.

Rust Belt is the only theater in the Valley that produces only locally-written plays and musicals. Its on-stage product is known for its original music and satirical wit.

Like all theaters, Rust Belt halted performances in March of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic. It did not reopen to live performance until July of this year. With no ticket revenue, the theater relied on fundraisers – including video productions of shows released on the Internet – to pay its bills.

Rust Belt’s rented space in Calvin Center includes an auditorium that seats roughly 100.

“When I opened this theater company… it was very important to me to create a community theater that was sustainable,” Joki wrote in his post. “…I wanted a small, intimate venue that could showcase original work and survive on the ticket sales… And for a while, it worked. I am fiercely proud of that, as well as everyone who contributed to it.”

Joki implied in his message that Rust Belt will continue, and will present plays in other locations.

“I do not know where we will end up, but we intend to keep producing shows in some form, and will do so as long as we have an audience that wants to see them,” he wrote.

Currently on stage at Rust Belt is the company’s annual holiday show, “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas,” a ribald musical based on “A Christmas Carol.”

The final performance will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 19. Tickets remain available for that show, as well as the 8 p.m. performances Dec. 17 and 18, and the midnight performance on the evening of Dec. 18.

For reservations, call 330 507 2358.

Joki expressed his determination to restore his theater to firm footing.

“Theater is not a building,” he wrote. “Theater is art. It is a relationship. It transcends walls and borders. Most importantly, it can happen anywhere.

“My hope is that we will be performing the 16th annual production of ‘How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas’ at a new venue in 2022.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.