The first municipally-run, outdoor civic theatre in the country, Cain Park was the brainchild of Cleveland Heights Mayor Frank C. Cain and Heights High School drama teacher Dr. Dina Rees "Doc" Evans. Rising from the ashes of the Great Depression, Cain Park was built using finances and labor made possible by New Deal agencies, namely the County Soldiers and Sailors Relief Commission and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). From the beginning, "Doc" Evans' plans for the Park were ambitious, yet she accomplished nearly everything she set her mind on. Throughout the 1940's, Cain Park Theatre staged at least one production for each week of its ten-week seasons. These productions included works by Shakespeare, Moliere, Ibsen, Sardou, Pirandello, Gilbert and Sullivan, and countless others. There were dramas, musicals, period pieces, and comedies. No matter the genre, the seats at Cain Park's amphitheater were always full, during both good times and bad. The trials of a country at war and competition from the Golden Age of Hollywood did little to slow down the open-air theatre in the woods between Taylor and Lee roads.
In fact, Cain Park Theatre, led by its co-founder and manager "Doc" Evans, did all it could to keep morale up during World War II. In March of 1942, "Army Red!", an original production written by Cain Park alumnus and serviceman John Price, showed the citizens of Cleveland Heights what it would be like if an actual air raid were to take place in their community. Cain Park Theatre was awarded a Citation of Merit by the Office of Civilian Defense for this effort. Later that same year, in August, a "Victory Sing" was held in which the community gathered at the Park to sing patriotic songs, led by the Cain Park Choral Society and the Cleveland Heights Symphony Orchestra. The following year, the Office of War Information (OWI) contacted "Doc" Evans about staging an "Industrial Show", a pageant to celebrate the contributions of Americans on the home front working in manufacturing plants to support the war effort. A "grand spectacle" titled "Flight For Freedom" was planned, in cooperation with the Jack & Heintz Co. of Cleveland, but it never came to fruition, mainly due to the U.S. Government's decision to eliminate the OWI.
Some of the ways that Cain Park Theatre helped Americans get through World War II were more subtle, such as the Sunday Evening Community Hours that featured a guest speaker each week who would give a talk on topical issues and, often, moral and philosophical concerns of the day. However, perhaps the most telling page of the story of Cain Park's contribution to the war effort is one found towards the end of a theater program from the week of July 23, 1944. It lists the names of over eighty young men and women, all of whom had either played on the stage or worked behind it, who were currently serving overseas. Underneath it was an "In Memoriam" dedicated to three young men who would not be returning home.
Some very big names graced the stage of Cain Park's amphitheater during its "Halcyon Years". Among them were local news legends (Dorothy Fuldheim), nationally recognized actors (Hal Holbrook), and internationally famous muses to Nobel-winning Italian playwrights (Marta Abba). Numerous theater directors, set designers, choreographers, and actors came from far and wide to take part in summer productions staged at Cain Park Theatre, making it an important and influential destination within the "Little Theatre" movement.
Despite all this success, Cain Park never strayed from its roots as a municipally-owned venue operating with Mayor Cain's goal of providing dramatic entertainment for the community at an affordable price. It is safe to say that not only did Cain Park fulfill this mission, it also achieved "Doc" Evans' vision of becoming not just a theatre, but a school of the theatre, where those with acting talent and ambition could find an outlet. In return for this gift, the many alumni of Cain Park over the years gratefully served not just their community, but their country as well.
Student theatrical productions at Cleveland State University have been a continuous part of student life on campus from before 1923 when the Cleveland Young Men's Christian Association education program first started offering college level courses at The Cleveland YMCA School of Technology and Fenn College, CSU's predecessor school. During the 1930’s Fenn’s student drama organization was variously called The Players of Fenn College and simply The Players, before becoming commonly known as The Fenn Players.
Early stage productions were produced in the auditorium of either the Central YMCA or the "Medical Building". Later Fenn productions were staged in Fenn Tower’s Panel Hall and Stilwell Hall auditorium. The person most responsible for developing The Fenn Players was Professor George Srail of the Speech Department. Between 1946-1965, Srail directed many of the productions as well as writing a number of original scripts for The Players. Srail was also chiefly responsible for establishing at Fenn the Kappa Zeta chapter of Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theater Honorary Society.
In 1965 Fenn College was taken over by the State of Ohio and became The Cleveland State University, The Fenn Players became the CSU Players, and Joseph Garry was hired and took over direction of student drama productions. Under Garry there was a major production by the CSU Players each quarter that ran for at least two weekends. From 1965-1969 CSU Players' productions continued to be staged in Fenn Tower's Panel Hall or Stilwell Hall auditorium.
On November 21, 1969 the Theater Department open it's presentation of The Connection by Jack Gelber, and directed by Garry, at its new Factory Theatre in the Theater Arts Building, a converted former warehouse. The production also marked the discontinuation of the name CSU Players. In November 1970 Garry directed a production of Aristophanes' The Birds, which debut of the CSU Dance Company. In March the production was invited to perform at the College Theater Festival at George Washington University Centre.
The production of Jose Rivera's Marisol, directed By Holly Holsinger, opened in the Allen Theatre Complex's Second Stage on February 23, 2012. It was the Department's first production in its new home in the Middough Building in Cleveland's Playhouse Square where a $30 million reconfiguration offers CSU students three state-of-the art performance venues in the nation's largest theatre district west of Broadway in New York City.
Natalie Jemiola-Wilson and Lynn M. Duchez Bycko
Karamu Theatre, listed as the "oldest black theater company in America" by the African American Registry, began in 1917 with a series of plays with interracial casts, which were produced by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe in the Neighborhood Association settlement they founded two years earlier on East 38th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.
The name Karamu, Swahili for "a place of joyful meeting," was applied to a new theater constructed in 1927 and became the name for the entire settlement in 1941. When a fire destroyed the original complex in 1939, it was rebuilt a decade later at East 89th and Quincy, where it remains as a vibrant part of the community.
This is a collection of Karamu House photographs from the Cleveland Press Collection and others, showcasing the settlement's activities, including the theatrical productions, as well as a collection of WPA art produced at Karamu and collected by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe.
Playhouse Square came into being after World War I when local real estate developer Joseph Laronge, who had already opened the Stillman Theater on East 12th Street, formed a partnership to build a row of theaters on Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th Streets, thus creating the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York City.
Five theaters opened between February 1921 and November 1922 along Euclid Avenue between East 14th and East 17th Streets. Four of the theaters – the Allen, Ohio, State and Palace – were on the north side of Euclid, with the Hanna across the street in the Hanna Building.
The theaters originally offered silent movies, legitimate theater and vaudeville. Later, during the Great Depression, movies became the main form of entertainment. While there were several factors to the theaters’ demise, chief among them was the post World War II change in the way people spent their entertainment dollars, with many people spending their leisure time in newly developed suburbs. Television was also a factor. While the Allen, Ohio, State and Palace theaters had opened in a 19-month span, it took just 14 months (from May 1968 to July 1969) for all four to close. The Hanna struggled to stay open for almost two more decades.
In 1972, civic leaders stopped the planned destruction of the Ohio and State theaters. The purchase and eventual reopening of the Allen Theatre in October of 1998 meant that for the first time in over 30 years, all four marquees on Euclid Avenue burned at night. Shortly after that opening the Playhouse Square Foundation purchased the Hanna Building and the Hanna Theatre. Once again Cleveland could lay claim to the largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York City. In a newspaper poll, civic leaders hailed “the saving of Playhouse Square” as the leading triumph on a list of the top 10 successes in Cleveland history.
This Web site, a collaborative effort between The Playhouse Square Foundation and the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, contains images of prominent figures and events from the history of Playhouse Square, as well as images of the theaters over time. This site also documents some of the productions that comprise the history of Playhouse Square from its inception to the present time.
The Cleveland Play House was first conceived in 1915 at the home of Charles and Minerva Brooks. The first productions were performed at the Ammon house on the estate of Francis Drury and, for a brief period, in a barn behind the house. In 1917 The Play House found a new home in an old Lutheran Church at E. 73rd and Cedar Avenue. This would remain their home for 10 years until they finally relocated to their present location at Euclid and E. 86th Street.
From its modest beginnings on the estate of Francis Drury The Cleveland Play House has grown to become one of the largest regional theaters in the United States. It is the “nation’s oldest continuously running resident theater company” (Oldenburg, 1985).
The Cleveland Play House, though, is more than just the sum of its buildings. In particular, it is the vision of its founders, managers and artistic directors, and the legacy of those who treaded the boards, some of whom went on to national fame, that best define The Play House and will follow the company no matter the venue.
This Web site, a collaborative effort between The Cleveland Play House and the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University, contains images of the theatres, prominent figures and future luminaries of the stage as well as the productions that comprise the history of The Cleveland Play House from its inception in 1915 to 1983-84, when the new complex was unveiled.
The Dobama Theatre was founded by idealistic theater students, Don and Marilyn Bianchi, Barry Silverman and Mark Silverberg as their way of presenting free quality theater for the people of Cleveland. Dobama started as a very small production company that managed to present its first production during the week of May 17, 1960. Barry and Mark left Dobama shortly afterwards, while the Bianchis remained to nurture the theatre on Don’s often proclaimed foundation of Love and Respect, and to develop it into an acclaimed, innovative, and award-winning (if not entirely free) theater. Read more...
The Dobama Collection is a collaborative digital project between The Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University and the Cleveland Public Library. Forty three Dobama playbills lent to us for digitization by the Cleveland Public Library Literature Department, publicity stills from the Cleveland Press Collection, as well as a chronological listing of Dobama productions through July 2007 compiled by Laura R. Dempsey were all cataloged and indexed in Cleveland Memory to provide this montage of the Dobama's contributions to Cleveland's vibrant theatrical scene.
Founded in 1921, the Hanna Theater, in Cleveland, Ohio "served as the mecca of legitimate theater in Cleveland for over 60 years, providing Clevelanders with a source of quality theatrical entertainment rivaling Broadway" (Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, 1987).
The Hanna Theater Curtain is a unique part of Cleveland's theater history. It was common practice for traveling companies to leave their mark backstage on theater curtains; it might be a shirt or poster stitched to the lining; an original drawing by the scene designer; signatures of the cast; anything which proclaimed "we were here!" Over the years, the Hanna Theater Curtain accumulated hundreds of such posters, T-shirts, colorful, whimsical drawings, signatures of legendary names in the theater, and miscellaneous objects such as dolls and balloons. In time, the Hanna Curtain itself became a legend within the performing arts community of Northeast Ohio--a unique, unsurpassed collage of theater memorabilia.
Today, all that remains of the elegant Hanna Theater Curtain is the canvas liner. By 2002, badly worn and in need of substantial restoration, the curtain liner was rescued from destruction by faculty members in the Dramatic Arts Department of Cleveland State University. It is now housed in the Special Collections Department of the University Library, awaiting restoration efforts. A unique treasure of Cleveland's theatrical past, the Hanna Theater Curtain has inestimable educational value for today's theater arts students, and for the broader performing arts community.
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