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The Ohio Theatre Lima Gets Its Second Act

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Programming for The Ohio Theatre Lima will include annual seasons of The Avante Garage's Original Musicals and Comedies as well as smaller touring productions & more.

The Ohio Theatre Lima Gets Its Second Act

The Ohio Theatre is a historic Movie Palace/Vaudeville Theatre in downtown Lima, Ohio. It was built in 1927 by the Schine Corporation and over its storied history has hosted stage performances by a wide range of entertainers including Bob Hope. It was added to the National Historic Register of Historic Places in 1982 after having been converted into a nightclub 4 years prior by Larry Comer who purchased the theatre from Warner Brothers.

In 2013, The Ohio Theatre was purchased by Michael and Kelly Sadler who marketed the property as an Event Venue and Occasional Music Venue hosting parties and Special Events. Fortunately for Architecture Buffs, Theatre Historians, and Future Audience Members, Neither Comer nor the Saddlers removed any of the theatre's original plaster relief, chandeliers or other ornamentation in their various uses of the space. All of the "bones" of the original theatre are still there including the original movie screen and several original vaudeville drops in the fly space.

After a year-long search that took Television Producers and Avante Garage Theatre Company Co-Artistic Directors Michael Bouson (founder) and Joe Correll all over the US, the two have recently closed the purchase of The Ohio Theatre in Lima, Ohio. Bouson and Correll braved COVID19 to jet to more than 6 states in their furtive search for a place their beloved theatre company could call home. It was easy to find suitable buildings, it was easy to find welcoming communities with an appetite for the Arts but it was not easy to find a location that had both AND space and systems to add a foodservice component to the theatre which Bouson feels is vital to the theatre's financial health. After working in several Dinner Theaters and then owning their own in Downtown Nashville followed by a decade of running foodservice operations in many Broadway Theaters, Michael and Joe know the value of augmenting ticket sales to 'keep the stage lights on!

Bouson and Correll have their work cut out for themselves to not only restore the theatre but to augment the space with their foodservice operations in order to finance their artistic endeavors. They are forming a 501c3 corp called "Friends of The Ohio Theatre" to assist with fundraising, tax credits, and grants for the restoration work.

The theatre is over 20,000 square feet in size so it will take an equally monumental plan to breathe new life into this historic gem. Fortunately, Bouson and Correll have had over a year to come up with a plan they think will be just the ticket! Work will need to be in stages as will the opening of each individual operation due to budget and their bandwidth to manage it all!

The Theatre proper originally seated 1800 patrons in the Orchestra, Loges, Mezzanine, and Balcony. All of the seats were removed from the Orchestra when the Theatre was converted into a Disco in 1978. The seats in the Loges and most of the balcony were also removed at some point. The Mezzanine still has its seats, but it is really too dangerous to seat anyone there as the railing is not tall enough to prevent accidents.

Their intention is to focus on the Orchestra Level for the time being (they will use the Loges for Tech spaces - Follow Spot Operators, Lighting and Sound Board Operators, etc.) and will eventually turn the Mezzanine and Balcony into a second more intimate Cabaret Space to be open when the Main Theatre is closed.

In the Orchestra, they will not be re-installing theatre seats rather they will be seating their audience at tables and chairs. (250 - 300 persons). The Rear Orchestra has already been converted to a bar/lounge area with tables and chairs which they will reimagine as a piano bar called "The Stage Door Canteen to be open when the Main Theatre is closed (and after every performance for meet and greets and mingling with the cast.) Food Service will be part of the programming in all areas although in the Main Theatre, unlike the old-fashioned Dinner Theatre with a buffet, guests will pre-order a 3 Course Meal when they reserve their tickets and then will have the option to order drinks (alcoholic and soft) as well as desserts while they are there.

In the Basement are the original dressing rooms from when the Theatre was on the Vaudeville Circuit. These all need MAJOR renovations. The large Chorus Dressing Room will be divided into Men's and Women's Chorus Dressing Rooms, and then there are 4 Star Dressing Rooms as well as a 4 - 6 person 'Second Banana' Dressing Room. These Dressing Rooms will all have sinks in them. Additionally, there is orchestra pit access, a Men's Restroom (they will convert one stall into a shower), and a Women's Restroom (it also will get a shower.)

In the front of the Theatre at Street Level are two 600 square foot Retail Spaces flanking the large lobby on either side. The space on the East Side will become their Commercial Kitchen with Employee Bathroom, Pantry Storage, Food & Beverage Offices, and Walk-in Cooler/freezer in the Basement. The Space on the West Side will eventually become "The Playwright Bakery and Cafe" with prep/storage area in the rear and Employee Bathroom and Theatre Wardrobe Department in the Basement.

On the Second Floor above the two Retail Spaces AND The Lobby is currently "The Ohio Room". This 2700 square foot space includes Men's and Women's Restrooms and will be renovated into a Rehearsal/Classroom Studio and named after one of the many famous folks who hailed originally from Lima!

Future development includes "The Speakeasy" (a large lounge with a cutout to the interior lobby below and a gorgeous 30 foot long antique Art Deco Bar) and "Theater In The Stars" (the second more intimate performance space). Both Spaces are located on the Mezzanine and Balcony Levels of the Theatre proper. Behind the Art Deco Bar will be the Theatre Properties Department and on either side will become Offices.

Programming for The Ohio Theatre Lima will include annual seasons of The Avante Garage's Original Musicals and Comedies as well as smaller touring productions, Live Music Acts (Country, Pop, Rock, Classical) Dance Performances, Seasonal Themed Special Events and will be available for rent to all regional arts presenters, corporations and community organizations. Additionally, all of The Ohio Theatre's individual spaces will be available to rent for Meetings and Special Events with or without catering. All Theatre Operations will be managed by "Play With Your Food LLC" which is owned by Bouson and Correll.

Founded as an Improv/Sketch Comedy Troupe in 1984 by Michael Bouson, The Avante Garage Theatre Company is known for a number of "Firsts"! In addition to coining the phrase "Nashvegas", The Avante Garage Improv/Sketch Comedy show became the longest-running Professional Show in Nashville. Later, Joe Correll came on board as Co-Artistic Director and the company created and produced the longest-running Professional Audience Participation Murder Mystery "Fatal Follies of '23!" at Crawdaddy's Restaurant also in Nashville. In 1992, Bouson and Correll opened The Avante Garage Dinner Theatre with creative and business partners Jamey Green and Kathy Shepard becoming the first professional Dinner Theatre to produce all Original Plays and Musicals exclusively. Along the way, The Avante Garage won four First Night Awards (the Nashville equivalent of Los Angeles' Ovation Awards) and scored a number of high profile bookings at Vanderbilt University, Scene Three Productions, Actor's Playhouse, The Nashville Symphony, Opryland Hotel and the World Famous Exit/Inn. In 1994, Bouson and Correll moved to New York City where the Avante Garage produced the first Equity Showcase of their new musical "The Melancholy Dane!" at the acclaimed Circle in the Square Theatre and a revival of "The Speakeasy" at Danny's Skylight Room Cabaret. Most recently The Avante Garage produced a successful 4-week run of Joe Correll's "The Favorite" at The Avery Schreiber Playhouse in Los Angeles.

For more information on The Ohio Theatre, Friends of The Ohio Theatre and/or The Avante Garage Theatre, company please visit www.ohiotheatrelima.com.


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