By Guy D’Astolfo
A deal with a city church could allow the struggling community theater to again mount productions at its South Side building.
YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Playhouse might just have a prayer.
The financially reeling theater company has a deal in the works with a city church that wants to rent the Playhouse building on Sundays and other days for services and serve as a partner in its maintenance.
The proposed deal with Christian Revival and Discipleship Center would allow the Playhouse to resume staging plays in the Glenwood Avenue theater on the South Side. It would also raise revenue that would help the Playhouse pay back its debt to the IRS.
The church approached the Playhouse on April 13 with its proposal. Rand Becker, president of the Playhouse board of directors, is meeting today with Kenneth W. Paramore, pastor of the church to discuss the deal, which could be finalized as early as next week.
The church wants to be in the building by the first week of June, said Patricia Fagan, Playhouse spokeswoman. Both sides are eager to make the proposal a reality, she said.
Christian Revival and Discipleship Center, 3300 Hudson Ave., is only about five years old but has outgrown its building. It averages about 500 people at its services, said Deacon Chris McKee. The Playhouse’s capacity is about 650.
“We are very excited about a future partnership with the Youngstown Playhouse,” McKee said.
Things haven’t been going well at the Playhouse, which has faced a series of setbacks. Exorbitant heating bills and a sharp downturn in grants forced the Playhouse to go dark for the winter. At the beginning of this year, the Internal Revenue Service slapped a lien on the building for roughly $25,000 in unpaid payroll taxes and penalties. A water pipe burst in the building over the winter, causing water damage. Also, the building’s roof needs to be replaced, and it has a recurring problem with water in the basement.
To people connected with the Playhouse, it looked like the building was history, said Fagan.
Understandably, the Playhouse board greeted the church’s proposal with surprise and happiness. “Shocked and ecstatic would be a pretty accurate description,” said Fagan.
“A lot of us felt there would never be another play there,” she said. “We were getting resigned to it, but we vowed to always keep the memories of the building a part of us wherever we moved. Many people met their spouses there, raised kids there, formed lifelong friendships. We’re happy that the emotional attachment to it won’t be ended.”
Fagan could not reveal the financial details of the proposed contract with the church, but said the church wants to be both a tenant and a partner. It wants the lobby to remain decorated with posters and trappings of the theater, and will take responsibility for cleaning the building and its grounds, and for snow removal and security, said Fagan.
It also plans to bring in state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, which the Playhouse can use in its productions.
It would use the building every Sunday morning from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and on some midweek dates as the Playhouse schedule permits, said Fagan. “This would allow us to time to stage a Sunday matinee,” she said.
The Playhouse has been paying back its debt to the IRS according to a monthly payment schedule. “The IRS wants us to succeed and remain open,” said Fagan. “It has been cooperative and supports the proposal [from the church].”
In order to raise more money, it is planning a fundraiser and also a sale of props and items it no longer needs, said board president Becker.
While the Playhouse cut its season short late last year, it is currently in the casting phase for its first production since the fall. It will stage “Barefoot in the Park” in July at Boardman Center Middle School. “Blues in the Night,” a musical revue, will be staged in the late summer at Boardman Center. It also plans to resume theater classes as well as Youth Theater presentations.
Its 500-600 season ticket-holders had been given the option of either a refund or free season tickets for next year, plus tickets for the summer productions. Fewer than a handful asked for the refund, said Fagan.