Why? Staging Success: The Playhouse Square Story!

On Wednesday night, Matthew and I attended an advanced screening of “Staging Success: The Playhouse Square Story” and last night, it aired on WVIZ.

“Staging Success” tells the remarkable story of the rise, fall, and revitalization of the Playhouse Square theaters. In the early 1970’s, Ray Shepardson and the Junior League of Cleveland spearheaded an effort to reopen the theaters of Playhouse Square, which closed in the late 1960’s and had fallen into disrepair.

At the time, this was a major battle, as people in the area boasted of not going anywhere near downtown Cleveland. There was not a great sense of pride in the city. Slowly but surely, Playhouse Square raised the funds, refurbished the theaters, and reopened the doors to the performing arts in Cleveland.

Image Source – playhousesquare.org

One thing that really stuck me during “Staging Success” was that the theaters did not reopen to the public until the early 1980’s. I can remember going to Playhouse Square every Christmas with my mom and aunts to see “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol.” To me, the theaters have always been part of living in Cleveland, so the fact that they were almost razed for parking lots and the fact that they just reopened within my lifetime took me aback.

The revitalization of Playhouse Square took nearly 30 years from when the theaters closed to when the last refurbished theater, the Allen Theater, reopened. And Playhouse Square invested not only in the theaters, but in the neighborhood, developing hotels, restaurants, and offices to give the area strong economic roots.

Progress takes time, but with dedication and commitment from concerned citizens, business leaders, and the government, it can happen. The concerned citizens come first, though. Ray Shepardson fell in love with the theaters of Playhouse Square and sparked a fire in the community about saving them from destruction. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Image Source – east4thstreet.com

To that end, we in Cleveland have a lot to be proud of with how far the city has come. “Staging Success” quoted one Clevelander as saying that the joke used to be that you could roll a bowling ball down Euclid Avenue without hitting anyone. Now, from Playhouse Square to East 4th Street to Midtown and all over Cleveland, there are people and businesses and arts and life. Do we have progress still to be made? Absolutely. But “Staging Success” reminded me that (1) progress does take time and (2) it is 100% possible.

Did you see “Staging Success?” Were you as inspired as I was? To learn more about the history of Playhouse Square, click here. Or tune into encores of “Staging Success” on WVIZ tonight at 9pm, Sunday, November 18 at 4pm, or Thanksgiving night at 10pm.

***I was invited by Playhouse Square to attend a complimentary screening of “Staging Success: The Playhouse Square” story with a guest. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.***

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1 Response

  1. My wife and I saw it the first night it aired and loved it. It was as you said: when we were growing up in the 70s, going downtown for any reason other than work was out of the question. When my brother and I took photography classes in the high school (the early 80s), we ventured to the Flats and other nasty parts of downtown to take artsy photos. By the time I moved back after college, the transformation was stunning. PlayhouseSquare was a big part of that. We both remembered how nasty that area of town was. Going to shows at the theaters as they reopened was inspiring; there was a definite feeling of just how bad the buildings had gotten and an appreciation of the herculean effort had to be made to bring them back. Anyway, “Staging Success” was really well done and we plan on buying it on DVD to share it with family members who’ve moved out of state.

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