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The arts fight to the death

Published: Sun, January 11, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

The arts fight to the death

Whether the Youngstown Playhouse can be saved to see a second half-century of performances is a question that must be answered by the arts community at-large. And it is only one of many questions facing Youngstown and surrounding communities regarding their ability to maintain dozens of theaters, galleries, acting companies, bands and orchestras.

In short, this area is attempting to maintain an artistic lifestyle that it inherited from a different, more prosperous age. It was an age when Youngstown and Warren were the homes of major corporate headquarters and living standards were high. As an entry in today’s Years Ago column notes, in 1959 — the year the Playhouse opened, production workers in Youngstown, of which there were tens of thousands, earned the third highest wage of any city in the United States.

Theaters come and go

Times have changed. Indeed, times began changing not long after the Playhouse was opened 50 years ago. It is fair to ask whether the building would have ever been built if Playhouse members had known that within a decade four major downtown theaters would go dark. Among those was the Palace, which had an excellent theatrical stage dating to its vaudeville days. It was razed in 1964.

Just as it may have been impossible to look ahead in the mid-1950s when money was being raised to build the new Playhouse, it will be difficult to puzzle out if or whether the building can be saved today.

But the prospect of its demise gives a reason for all of the competing arts entities — especially the theatrical ones — to begin discussing how they can better work together. There is a finite limit to theater patrons, which means there is a limit to how many stages can be maintained and how many opening nights can be successes.

They can resolve to work together, or go dark separately.

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