Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
THE VICTORIAN PLAYERS
The Little Theater That Could
There are very practical issues when undertaking this kind of a project. Sets have to be built. Costumes have to be made. You have to get a property to perform which means paying royalties for use of the script. You have to know how to direct a play. They did it by the proverbial seat of their pants.
They borrowed and made costumes. They got out hammers and nails and built the sets. And most amazingly the dodged royalty fees by writing their own scripts for such literary classics as Jane Eyre and Anne of the Green Gables, always looking for public sector literary gems.
Rehearsal space was a major issue. Local activist Jim Villani had just started the Pig Iron Press. He offered space in his facility to rehearse and build sets. Here is a rule for living. Don’t rehearse in an area where you are also painting sets. There’s fumes and stuff. Lesson learned!!! The set building stayed. The rehearsals moved elsewhere!!!
In the center of it all was Jean Kelty McClure who used her talent and personal funds to propel the venture forward. She wrote scripts and wrote checks. And she figured out how to direct a play!! When she passed away in 2003 shepherding the organization was taken over by Marilyn Higgins who worked tirelessly to gather the troops and move forward.
Today the Vic is a mainstay in the local Arts and Culture scene. It attracts talent from all over the region to practice their craft be it acting, directing, or writing. It has become a favorite haunt for local television celebs who often appear in Vic plays. One of the most successful was The Odd Couple starring WYTV’s Len Rome and Jim Loboy. Also seen is the dynamic duo from WFMJ Glenn Stevens and Regina Reynolds.
It performed its first musical last year…The Fantastiks. Musicals present a separate set of challenges as related to space, facilities and finances. It is a challenge met head on by the Vic’s stalwart group of troupers. It has also taken on more contemporary pieces such as Agnes of God and Doubt. It also offered a series of presentations related to the anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy. Portions were written by then managing director Jack Ballantyne following its pattern of using local talent to provide materials.
The Vic today faces the future trying to make its current facility handicapped accessible and generally upgrading its intimate home. For all intents and purposes it is totally self-funded. It does do some fund raising but mostly exists on ticket sales and a raucous sell out vaudeville show where the audience participates as much as the performers. Over the past few years it has added a Victorian Style Tea at a Canfield Teahouse.
You can get into the holiday spirit by attending the Vic’s Christmas show…In the Spirit of Christmas. It is a collection of short one act plays relating to the season. It is a new collection every year…both fun and thought provoking. December 4 -13. The rest of the season is stellar: Same Time Next Year / A Man for All Seasons / Moonlight Magnolias / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (Is that Elizabeth Taylor I see running around the building??). Visit its website for details.
Everyone in the Valley should attend a Vic performance at least once. It is an up close and personal way to get to know great community theater done by great residents of our community.
The Victorian Players
702 Mahoning Ave.
Youngstown, OH 44502
There are still a fair amount of people around who remember the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies where they are trying to raise money to save something or other. (If you are under thirty…Google them on You Tube). About fifteen minutes into the movie someone would say…let’s put on a show. Oh Boy!!!! They then danced and sang their way to Broadway after the big time producer would travel to the farm to see their production put on in a barn. Okay….it was a simpler time.
But…something like that actually happened right here in the Mahoning Valley. This area has always had an abundance of talent looking for expressive outlets. In 1992, a bunch of academic types who liked theater got together and literally said “Let’s put on a show.” Well…maybe a play. Maybe a Victorian style play!! And The Victorian Players was born.
Passion for anything can produce interesting results. But let’s be honest. Victorian era plays in Youngstown, Ohio? Folks…this was and continues to be in many ways a shot and a beer town. And for the younger folks…the ones Googling Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland…more likely than not you would get a quizzical look and the question “Victoria who? You mean the dirty lingerie store?” Yet 23 years later it continues to operate in its own facility in a former church nestled next to the railroad overpass on Mahoning Avenue,operating just above the radar producing great community theater.
Most folks in the area are familiar with its cousins, the Youngstown Playhouse, the Oakland Theater (defunct as of last year), the Rust Belt Theater, and semi-professional Easy Street Productions. All of these organizations produce good-to-great Community Theater designed to appeal to the different segments of the public. They are institutionalized with a broader scope of operation.
The Vic, as it is affectionately known, is different. It was born out of a love for literature and operates more like a club. These aren’t theater people. These are literature people. There’s a difference. These folks enjoy a specific form of theater using the Vic to exercise their considerable talents. By any reasonable measure they should have failed a long time ago. They shouldn’t be here, yet here they are. It is the little theater that could!!
Tom Copeland is currently the Secretary of the organization. He was one of the charter members along with Elizabeth Ford and Deborah Mitchell. The driving force behind its founding was Jean Kelty McClure who continued to be the heart and soul of the Vic until she died in 2003. The goal was to provide family friendly plays, mostly farces and melodramas, rooted in what could be termed classic literature.
It was done on blind faith. Nobody in the organization had any theater experience whatsoever. The founders were professors and teachers of English and literature. Jean cut a deal with the Oakland Theater to use their facility in a former Jewish Temple on Fifth Avenue. Its first production was The Drunkard, considered to be the longest running play in history. It then moved to the Calvin Center until 1994 when Jean bought the current building, a former church, which was converted to a theater. The space is small and intimate which has become a hallmark of the Victorian Players.
THE FOLKS WHO MAKE IT WORK
Bottom Row: Tom Copeland, Marlene Strollo
Top Row: Sam Luptak (President), Nick Mulichak, Mike Brady, Gary Deckant