by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Although most individuals envision Broadway as the place to go to study the arts, NYC isn’t always a viable option. For many aspiring singers, dancers and actors, New York’s high cost and distance prevents them from pursuing their dream.

However, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between Cleveland State University (CSU), Playhouse Square and the Cleveland Play House, individuals from the Midwest and other parts of the country can now get all the benefits of Broadway closer to home.

After a massive renovation, the Allen Theatre Complex in downtown Cleveland has officially opened as a truly innovative, state-of-the-art center for performing arts and arts education. As part of PlayhouseSquare – the second largest performing arts complex in the United States – this incredible collaboration is able to provide aspiring thespians with a viable and affordable option when choosing where to go to study the arts. 

The Allen Theatre Complex is also the new home of The Cleveland Play House and CSU’s theatre, dance and art departments. Part of what makes this such a unique and progressive project is that CSU’s theatre program has now become the only undergraduate program in the country to be affiliated with a major professional theatre!

Not only does this provide CSU students with the opportunity to work alongside of professionals from the Cleveland Play House and Playhouse Square, but it also enables students to stage larger productions of their own. And it’s all part of one of the greatest partnerships of urban revitalization in the country!

Michael L. Mauldin, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair; The Department of Theatre and Dance, Cleveland State University was gracious enough to chat with me about the new project.  Here’s what we had to say: 

How is this partnership already affecting the students and the community at large currently? (M.M) The students are enjoying new state of the art facilities and there has been an enormous interest from prospective students from throughout the nation who previously never would have considered CSU.  There is also great interest from the local theater community that this partnership will be fostering new talent to feed into Cleveland’s rich heritage of performing arts.

Who are the supporters?

There are many corporate supports, such as KeyBank and Peter B. Lewis, the founder of Progressive insurance.

Were there any detractors?

No, this was very much a win-win. The Cleveland Play House needed a new home because their previous facility was too large and old to maintain. CSU was in the same predicament, and Play House Square was looking to do something different with the Allen Theatre. This has been discussed for years, even decades, but recent factors (mainly the economy) finally made it all come together.

With the arts being rapidly removed from American educations at all levels except the University level how does the Allen Theatre see itself influencing the performing arts prospects and available resources for kids and young adults in Cleveland and everywhere else?

Playhouse Square has a very robust educational program, where they bring in school kids from all over the region and expose them to the performing arts. This new arts campus will be one more reason for them to come, and hopefully inspire them to seek CSU for a performing arts program in college.

What Broadway touring shows are booked to stage in the next coming months or year? Touring dance companies?  Choral or Philharmonic companies?    

There is a constant flow through Playhouse Square of major shows, (Hair, La Cage Aux Folle, Jersey Boys, etc…) But the new schedule will be released next week.

How large are the stages?       

The main stage is full Broadway production size and back house but with 500 seats. The second stage is fully reconfigurable with 320 seats. The black box theater is standard black box with 150 seats.

What is the general atmosphere currently in the downtown theatre district area for which the Allen found a very big need to revitalize?       

Very exciting. New restaurants are popping up. A new hotel is going in nearby (but Cleveland is also about to get a new casino and convention center).

Some awesome facts:

The Goals of the Collaboration:

  • To raise the quality and accessibility of the arts, as well as arts education.
  • To revitalize the city of Cleveland and stimulate economic growth.
  • To reinstate Cleveland’s reputation as an urban leader of the arts.
  • To create a thriving arts program within a vibrant community, which links Cleveland State University’s campus and the theater district.
  • To attract top artists, as well as students, from across the country to the core of Cleveland.

Additional Features:

  • More than 120,000 square feet of classrooms, rehearsal space, art studios, offices, meeting rooms and production shops (for sets and costumes).
  • The new Allen Theatre Complex is one of very few in the country to offer a fully flexible Second Stage.
  • Unlike most American theatres, the Second Stage’s construction and design enables both the stage and the audience to be moved around, conforming to the needs of various shows.
  • Theatergoers will find contemporary and classical theater, dance, opera, national Broadway touring productions, comedy and musical concerts contained all within two blocks. (The same area also includes a concentrated arts education, technology and broadcasting hub.)
  • For CSU students, the new theatres will serve as first-class learning environments, rivaling the very best university facilities in America.
  • Although CSU and the Cleveland Play House will continue to operate as independent entities, the move gives CSU students access to a broader, world-class learning environment within a thriving downtown theater district.
  • It also enables students to enjoy different fields within the arts, as well as access to costume and scene shop space.
  • The partnership unites the Cleveland community by offering better quality performances and further enhancing an already rich cultural destination.