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A "Capitol" Idea

November 26, 2008 - Phyllis Sigal
The Great Lakes Theater Festival in Cleveland opened its 47th season in a brand new home at the Hanna Theatre in September.

The Hanna Theatre is located in Cleveland's Playhouse Square, the second largest performing arts center in the country outside of Lincoln Center in New York City. The other theaters are the Ohio Theatre, State Theatre, Palace Theatre and the Allen Theatre, all of which opened originally in 1921-1922.

In the early 1970s, they were all just "one injunction from a wrecking ball," according to Todd Krispinksy, marketing and public relations director for the GLTF.

"The threatened razing of the Ohio and State in 1972 galvanized community leaders, who obtained a stay of execution," according to the Playhouse square Web site. Preservationists continued to work to save the theaters and raise funds for restoration, which culminated with the July 1982 reopening of the Ohio Theatre. The State and Place reopened by the end of the 1980s and the Allen re-opened in 1998.

I toured the Hanna Theater just a couple of weeks before it was ready for opening night, which was Sept. 24.

And boy was I impressed. All I kept thinking about was the Capitol Music Hall as we saw the renovations to this theater.

It had been a 1,421 seat hall with the standard proscenium-type stage, but was transformed to a "thrust" stage, which has an extended apron that juts into the audience, with around 550 seats. But, with a push of a button, the stage can descend into the floor level to restore the theater to a proscenium orientation and descend below the house floor to crate an orchestra pit.

The architectural firm, Westlake Reed Leskosky, created a "great room" experience, in that all of the evening's activity occurs in a single space, with a variety of seating options and social interaction opportunities, according to a press release.

The farthest seat from the stage is just 12 rows away. The seating options include traditional theater seats — but with lots of leg room, club chairs, banquettes and private boxes. Patrons also can sit at the comfortable lounge and bar area, order drinks and still watch the performance. Lots of leg room keeps people comfortable. The club chairs offer a shelf on which to rest your drink. The historic boxes even offer a private restroom!

The decor was beautiful, with the gorgeous copper ceiling repaired and restored, with gold and mauve upholstery replaced with shades of green. All of the chandeliers also were cleaned and restored.

The total cost, however, was just a bit less than $20 million. How did they do it?

Maybe someone should get in touch with those people in Cleveland ... maybe they can help Wheeling figure something out!


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