By Sean Barron
If Act I was about reorganizing and rearranging old props and Act II centered on making aesthetic improvements, then you could safely say the show’s main themes were community improvement and strengthening partnerships.
“We see the [Youngstown] Playhouse as a tremendous anchor in the community,” said Jack Daugherty, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.’s neighborhood stabilization director. “We want to help the Playhouse realize its full potential to Youngstown’s neighborhoods.”
Daugherty spent time in a warehouse on the property carefully hoisting a series of antique wooden chairs to a narrow loft that also contained old desks, bureaus and cabinets, then carefully organizing the furniture. Both duties were the main parts of volunteer work he performed during a neighborhood cleanup effort Saturday at the Playhouse, off Glenwood Avenue just south of downtown.
A primary aim of the cleanup, which was the latest of YNDC’s monthly workdays, was to fight blight as part of an effort to beautify the city’s Idora Neighborhood. Inclement weather prevented outdoor work from being done, however.
Twenty-five to 30 volunteers, including Youngstown State University students, were in the warehouse and backstage organizing or discarding numerous large and small props that had been used as stage sets. A primary goal was to make everything easier to find, noted John Cox, Playhouse board president.
Despite temperatures in the low 30s and several inches of snow, the cleanup took place Saturday largely because a similar effort was derailed last month due to poor weather, Cox explained. In addition, such timing allowed the work to be finished before the Playhouse’s next performance in mid-February, and before new fencing and outdoor lighting are installed in the spring, he said.
Daugherty said the YNDC has a longtime partnership with the 93-year-old Playhouse, which he called “a stabilization force in the community.” Over the years, his organization has used the Playhouse to plan other neighborhood cleanup efforts, he added.
Some volunteers reorganized 20-foot flats, which are thin, structured pieces normally used to build stage sets, while others moved everything from an old grill to metal frames before they were stored in the warehouse.
A walk through the musty upper and lower levels of the building reveals stacks of largely donated items that have been used on sets of plays, such as barber and salon chairs, a small organ, a radio from the 1930s, vintage TVs, old appliances, manual and electric typewriters, dishware and cookware, curio cases, wine bottles, hat bags and even a Pictionary game.
One area contains shelves of suitcases, some of which are about 100 years old, Cox pointed out. Mixed in were trunks from the early 20th century that had been used in the Playhouse’s production of “Titanic” about seven years ago, he explained.
“Everyone sees what goes on onstage, but backstage you don’t get to see,” Cox said, adding, “There’s a lot of cool stuff here, actually.”
Also happy to make a stage appearance was Lukas Darling, secretary for YSUScape, a campus organization that collaborates with YNDC and other entities focused on beautification and revitalization projects in Wick Park and other areas near the university.
“We’re backstage organizing and removing trash and things that are no longer needed here or have become unusable,” Darling said about his main duties.
Others on hand included the Rev. Gary Koerth, pastor of Tabernacle Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Austintown, which formed a ministry called Hope for Renewal about two years ago.
“We’re just doing whatever needs to be done,” which included cleaning the backstage area and part of the warehouse, he said.
The Rev. Mr. Koerth noted that the ministry works closely with YNDC on its monthly work projects and added he felt “called to service in the city.”
“They’ve come a long way,” Mr. Koerth said of YNDC. “We feel blessed to be part of it.”