By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Big Show is coming back.
A group of community volunteers is turning a building that once housed a movie theater into a venue for live productions.
The renovations, which involve gutting the interior, are still in progress. But the East Palestine Community Theater, as it is formally known, has set a tentative opening for early May, when it will stage the musical “South Pacific.” That will be followed by “The Wizard of Oz” later in the summer.
A full season of six productions is in the works for the 2010-11 season, which will begin in the fall.
The theater has adopted the nickname “the Big Show,” because that is what locals used to call the venue when it was a movie house.
“There used to be three theaters in East Palestine,” said Joyce McCutcheon, a local businesswoman and one of the organizers of the theater. “There was a nickel theater that everyone could afford, and another theater, and then there was this building, which everyone called ‘the Big Show’ because it always had the best movies and it cost more.” The other two theater buildings are gone, she said.
The Big Show building most recently housed The Lighthouse, a ministry. Before that it was a general store. It was last used as a movie theater in the 1960s.
The volunteer group, led by East Palestine Chamber of Commerce President Don Elzer and his wife, Dianna, stripped the interior of the brick building at 50 N. Market St. to its shell. A drop ceiling was removed, revealing a high arched ceiling and the remnants of a proscenium arch for the stage.
The theater used to have a sloped floor, but that was leveled off years ago, and the slope cannot be restored, said McCutcheon.
Local contractors and residents have donated plumbing, carpentry work and painting. Architect Doug Sipp charged a nominal fee to draw up plans for the renovation.
A marquee that once adorned the front of the building is long gone, and probably won’t be replaced in the near future, said Dianna Elzer.
When the work is done, the theater will have a fairly deep stage of about 30 feet and a seating capacity of 100. There will be no fixed seats, so that the auditorium can be used for multiple purposes, including concerts, receptions and meetings.
The theater company has been having a flea market in the lobby for the past few months, and has raised close to $2,000, said Elzer.
Ryan Newell of Liberty is handling the stage productions for EPCT. He said the upcoming season will be finalized this summer.
Newell, 20, is an English major at Youngstown State University, where he is involved in theater. The Salem native’s acting credits also extend to Salem Community Theatre and Stage Left Players of Lisbon.
Newell said he’s not concerned about adding to an already crowded Youngstown-area theater scene.
“This will be a community theater,” he said. It will draw actors and directors from the Youngstown area, he said, but its primary audience will be in the East Palestine area. “It won’t be like the Youngstown Playhouse as far as sets are concerned, but I would like to give [our audience] big shows.”
East Palestine is not far from the Pennsylvania border, and the theater could draw patrons and performers from the Chippewa and Beaver, Pa., areas, as well as East Liverpool, said Elzer.