Youngstown Playhouse Enters Management Deal With Stambaugh

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Stambaugh Auditorium’s staff has taken over the management of The Youngstown Playhouse under a deal announced today.

The Henry Stambaugh Auditorium Association is now handling the operation of the Playhouse building and grounds, as well as its programming and fundraising. Under the terms of the 18-month contract, which took effect Jan. 18, the Playhouse’s play selection committee will continue to put together the on-stage lineup of shows, in conjunction with Stambaugh staff. 

The new arrangement was made necessary by the departure of The Playhouse’s executive director and artistic director earlier this year, said John Cox, president of the board of directors of the community theater on Glenwood Avenue.

It also grew from the successful collaboration between the two entities last year in staging the musical “The Color Purple” at Powers Auditorium, which is part of the DeYor Performing Arts Center.

Stambaugh took over management of the DeYor in 2020, in an arrangement that is similar to the one announced today.

With oversight provided by The Playhouse board, the 31-person Stambaugh staff will handle the 98-year-old theater’s administrative, marketing, fundraising, box office, artistic, production, operational and facility management duties.

The Playhouse has weathered the pandemic shutdown and is in strong financial condition, Cox said. With the departures of executive director Kayla Boye and artistic director Joshua Green, Cox said he wanted to maintain its success.

“We’ve gone through several executive directors in the last few years,” he said. “When Kayla and Joshua left, I said I refuse to go backward.”

Both Boye and Green were on the job just shy of a year before they left. They accepted their positions during the shutdown of entertainment venues, but when they reopened, both again became busy with their own acting careers.

Green is a director and actor based in Lancaster, Pa., while Boye is an actor, director and theater administrator in Chicago.

Both Boye and Green continued to live in those cities and worked part-time for the Playhouse

The Playhouse felt fortunate to find the two, but was unsure it could repeat the feat, Cox said. The board also was weary of the frequent job searches and wanted to maintain stability.

Plus, the low salary range it could offer for a full-time executive director made it necessary to study other options.

“The salaries for these jobs at other theaters is well above ours,” Cox said. “Like $15,000 to $20,000 a year more.”

By entering into a deal to use Stambaugh as manager, The Playhouse got a large, full-time and experienced staff for roughly the same amount of money it spent on the two directors, Cox said, while maintaining its identity and keeping control in its board’s hands.

The Playhouse approached Stambaugh about a year ago – when 25% capacity limits were in place for theaters – about staging “The Color Purple” at 2,300-seat Powers. The Playhouse holds about 400.

“After seeing how well it worked, between our staff and theirs, I started to talk to [Stambaugh] to see if [an operational arrangement] would be viable,” Cox said. “We needed help on the administrative end. It’s essentially the same cost but we’re getting a staff of 31.”

Kelly McKee-Foos, marketing director for Stambaugh, agreed that that first collaboration was smooth.

At a meeting afterward, “the staff of the Playhouse noted how welcoming we were,” she said. “They were away from their home and we made them feel at home. And we were also surprised at how well these two completely different groups were able to mesh and pull off the show.”

Cox said the board was “thinking outside the box” when it hired Boye, who was very successful at obtaining grants, and did so again when it entered a deal with Stambaugh.

“We saw the growth [in funding that Boye brought in] and I’m confident that this will be in the same vein,” Cox said.

Under the Stambaugh umbrella, the venues at DeYor and Stambaugh could be used for Playhouse productions, including plays, musicals and special events.

Currently, the theater stages its large shows on its mainstage and smaller shows in its 90-seat Moyer Room.

Shows that draw an audience not the right size for either of those venues could find a new home in one of the other buildings, Cox said.

Matt Pagac, chief executive and operating officer of Stambaugh, said the agreement furthers the Stambaugh board’s long-held efforts to get area arts nonprofits to share resources.

“The Youngstown Playhouse, together with Stambaugh Auditorium and the DeYor Performing Arts Center, three iconic Youngstown arts and events facilities, are now managed and operated together,” Pagac said. “[The Playhouse contract] further grows the partnership’s ability to produce opportunities featuring local performing arts that include The Playhouse, the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, Opera Western Reserve, and the Stambaugh Youth Concert Band.”

The Playhouse is in the second half of its current season. Its next production will be the drama “The Mountaintop,” which will be staged in The Moyer Room Feb. 18-27.

The theater will also begin exterior upgrades in the spring. All funding is in place for the work, which Cox said will include crack sealing and repainting.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.