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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Coach House Theatre puts spotlight on 85th anniversary

4/4/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The Coach House Theatre is marking its 85th anniversary this year.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — More than eight decades of entertaining Akron audiences will be celebrated this month at Coach House Theatre.

Shown, from left, are members of the Coach House Theatre 85th Anniversary Gala Committee: (seated) Linda Gauer and Diane Vukovich; and (standing) Dona Bowman, Sandy Conley and Nancy Rosche. Not pictured are Verna Friend and Mary Jo Stasell.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Conley
The theater is marking its 85th anniversary this year, with a “roaring ’20s” themed gala taking place April 13.

Nancy Rosche, of West Akron, a past chairman of the board and co-chair of the gala planning committee, said the nonprofit theater has remained vibrant for a reason.

“It’s just a group of dedicated women,” she said. “It amazes me, too.”

Rosche said last year the city of Akron named the theater a historical site.

The theater came to be in November 1928, when the Akron Woman’s City Club founded the Little Theater Players. At that time, the club and theater were based at the Pythian Temple on South High Street in Downtown Akron.

The first performance was “The Texas Nightingale,” which took place in March 1929. Less than two years later, the theater hired its first paid director, Florence Lahrmer, who stayed on for many years and helped set the tone for the theater.

The theater was part of the Little Theater movement, which was an early 20th-century effort to create more intimate spaces for performances.

At one point, 18 women from the City Club formed the first board of directors for the theater. Following that, in 1946, the club moved to the former Grey Lodge property at 732 W. Exchange St., and the theater followed and settled into the 1913 carriage house on the property.

The new site inspired a name change to Coach House Theatre. Rosche said members and their husbands were instrumental in getting the new theater building into shape for performances.

For most of the recent years, the theater has been run with the help of professional artistic directors. Jim Fippin served in that role for many years, and now Terry Burgler and Nancy Cates oversee the theater.

Burgler and Cates annually submit a list of possible productions, and the board determines which of the shows to do, Rosche said.

“We always do an Agatha Christie mystery,” she said. “That’s become a standby.”

The theater’s 93 seats are often filled for performances, she added.

“We get a lot of critical acclaim,” she said.

One of the newest initiatives at the theater is its Elder Theatre Series, which provides free performances of professional actor-read plays for area senior citizens.

“The theater fills up quickly” for the performances, which are done four times a year, Rosche said.

To celebrate its years of theatrical success, the board is hosting a gala titled “… And All that Jazz” April 13 at the Akron Woman’s City Club. Organizers said flapper attire is encouraged but optional, and the party will feature live jazz from The Atkinson Ensemble. Tickets start at $85.

The event will support a capital campaign under way for the theater, Rosche said. The board is hoping to eventually raise $900,000 for improvements to the theater’s space.

Plans for the first phase, for which $160,000 is needed, are to build a new green room so the current one can be used for storage and set construction. Other plans call for making the restrooms more accessible and changes to the lobby.

The board is happy with the current size of the theater itself, Rosche added.

“If there’s a group of women that could keep a theater going for 85 years, a lot of people were doing a lot of things right,” she said. “And we’ve had good, good theater.”

For more information on the gala or to make a donation, call 330-864-7007 or email coach housetheatre@gmail.com.

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