Monday, February 28, 2011

" The Penny Players" and " Barn Playhouse " of Madison, Ohio

The Rabbit Run Theater, first opened in 1946, is one of the few barn theaters still operating in Ohio.  Its quaint, rustic surroundings have contributed to making live theater a mainstay for generations of patrons.  From its first season that featured 9 plays and 6400 patrons to its current schedule of 4 main stage productions and 8000 patrons, The Rabbit Run Theater is another hidden gem in Lake County's history.

The barn was built in the late 19th c. by Frederick Foster on the Steven farm.  Broccoli, the farm's main crop attracted many rabbits.  The rabbits took up permanent residence near the barn, hence the name Rabbit Run.  In 1918, the Klumps purchased the property and it continued as a working farm.  1940 saw son Will Jr. and sister Rooney form a local theater company.  " The Penny Players " were formed and their venue became known as " The Barn Playhouse."  World War II halted their efforts, but in 1946 the theater company featuring nine WWII veterans as cast members resumed.  Nine plays and 6400 patrons made the return of live theater to Madison a success.  More success followed.  Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy performed at Rabbit Run in 1951.  Jim Backus ( of Mr. Magoo and Gilligan's Island fame ) was a headliner in 1953.  Marge Redmond, a local, took her 50's Rabbit Run experience and landed a role as Sister Jacqueline in the 60's TV sitcom "The Flying Nun."

A building project in 1955 marked the peak of the theater's growth.  Interior changes increased seating by 110 to 300 per show.  The loft was lowered and the stage enhanced.  However, one change led to financial difficulties that would plaque the theater until 2000.  A move to an 'equity' theater resulted in cash flow issues.  The waning of summer tourism to Madison and the attendance shift of actors and patrons to newer performance venues in downtown Cleveland resulted in severe revenue declines.  The theater lights remained dark in 1957, 1960, and 1963.  The year 1967 ended with the permanent closing of the venue.  Twelve years passed before the stage lights would be re-lit.  A lease was secured from Rooney, the founder of the theater and The Friends of the Rabbit Run Theater  reopened the barn in 1980 with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. A merger with the Western Reserve Fine Arts Association in 2000 cemented the community theater's future.  Today, The Rabbit Run Theater continues as a summer site for live community theater.  The Rabbit Run Theater located in Madison, Ohio and its 2011 season are less than a one tank trip away.

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