Nominated for: BEST Theater
In 1958, the old carriage barn on the John Huntington estate was being considered for demolition by the Metropolitan Park Board. Holt Brown of Bay Village felt the old carriage barn deserved a better fate and approached the Park Board about converting the space into a theatre for the community.
Huntington Playhouse was created to provide amateur talent the space to perform for the community. The original seasons were during the summer months with productions lasting 2 weeks. Performances were on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. In May of 1970, the old carriage barn burned to the ground. The cause of the fire was never determined.
However, in the theatre world, "the show must go on" and Huntington Playhouse took up temporary quarters at Lakewood Little Theatre (now Lakewood's Beck Center for the Arts). This enabled Huntington to have an uninterrupted season and maintain the patrons who had supported it over the years.
Huntington Theatre, Incorporated, a 501c-3, non-profit corporation was founded in 1971. Under the direction of Marty Schickler, James "Bud" Binns, and Arthur Clark, ground was broken in April of 1971 on the site of the old carriage barn. The only remaining part of the old structure was a burnt beam located on the south wall of the now back stage area. The goal was to re-open in September of 1971 with a production of Oklahoma.
But the events leading up to the opening were more dramatic than anyone would have imagined. The construction was delayed by strikes. Fund raising consisted of benefit shows, selling the cinder blocks that make up the stage area for $1.00 per brick, and selling the seats in the auditorium for $100 per seat. Those people who bought seats were entitled the Huntington Brass and are recognized on the wall plaque in the lobby. The seats are also part of Cleveland history--they came from the Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square which had been slated for the wrecker's ball.
On opening day, August 11, 1971, the water was turned on and, by 5:30 PM, the last seat was bolted into the auditorium. Oklahoma opened and Huntington Playhouse was back to performing in a new 246 seat auditorium.
In 1972, Huntington presented it's first full season in the new space, opening with the Cleveland premier of 1776. The rehearsal hall and shop areas were added in 1972 along with an air conditioning system. In 1973, the Brass Lounge was added.
Over the years, Huntington Playhouse has staged many Greater Cleveland area premieres, including 1776, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Sweeney Todd, The Secret Garden and Forever Plaid.
The building may have changed but the commitment to theater for the community has not. Auditions are still open to all; acting roles are not pre-cast; and all the talent on stage is volunteer.. The behind-the-scene crews that provide the props and build the sets are volunteers as well. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of these selfless individuals, over 475,000 patrons have been entertained each summer for the last 50 years.
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