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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Peek behind the scenes at Akron Civic Theatre tours

2/13/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Tours take place once a month at the Akron Civic Theatre, where visitors get to learn more about architectural details of the historic theater, built in 1929.
Photo courtesy of Akron Civic Theatre
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Whether you’ve seen dozens of performances there or never stepped foot inside before, monthly free tours of the Akron Civic Theatre give visitors a chance to learn more about the iconic restored theater.

According to Val Renner, the Civic’s media/public relations director, tours of the Civic have been offered to the public over the years. For the past few years, the tours have taken place the third Tuesday of each month at noon at the theater, 182 S. Main St. Renner said those who are interested in taking the tour can call ahead at 330-535-3179 up to 11 a.m. that day to participate.

In the past couple of years, Renner said the tours have become more popular.

“They were averaging maybe 15, and now we’re averaging about 50 people,” she said.

Last July, a record 350 people came out on tour day.

“We’ve been a victim of our own success, but it’s great,” Renner said.

That tour was especially memorable because at the end, one of the tourgoers presented a check for $1,000, Renner said.

“We don’t charge for the tour,” she said. “All I ask at the end of the tour is we have our Stage Left booths open, so take a minute to look. All the money goes directly to the Akron Civic Women’s Guild, and they do so much for the theater.”

Donations are welcome and do help the theater remain open, she said.

According to the Civic’s website, the theater was built in 1929 by Marcus Loew and designed by famed theater architect John Eberson. The interior structure was fashioned after a Moorish castle featuring Mediterranean décor, including medieval carvings, authentic European antiques and Italian alabaster sculptures. Among facilities of its size, the Civic is one of only five remaining atmospheric theaters in the country where patrons experience a twinkling star-lit sky and intermittent clouds moving across the horizon.

In 2001, the Civic closed for more than a year for a $19 million restoration and expansion project. It reopened in November 2002.

Renner said the tour is open to individuals and groups. Families are welcome, but she notes the tours are best for children 13 and older.

Tours last up to 90 minutes. Renner said the group starts in the arcade and then heads into the lobby, where architectural details are pointed out.

“There are so many architectural elements that people don’t see when they come to a show because they are so busy trying to get to their seat,” Renner said.

Visitors also go into the auditorium and learn more about what it means to be an atmospheric theater. The stars on the ceiling and the Mighty Wurlitzer organ also are discussed.

The tour also takes visitors behind the scenes backstage, and Renner said she shares some stories about past performers.

The theater’s ghosts sometimes show up too, Renner added.

“There’s definitely some spirits that are within the walls of the Civic,” she said. “I’ve had them shut the lights off during the tour. And once we had a woman who fainted because she thought she saw a ghost.”

Renner said the tour attracts people from the Akron area, throughout Ohio and neighboring states.

She said she often hears from tour-goers for whom the tour is their first time in the theater.

“They’ll say, ‘I’ve always driven by it, but I’ve never been here,” she said.

For additional information, go to www.akroncivic.com.

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