Major renovations, alterations planned for Cleveland’s Allen Theatre
CLEVELAND, OH — Saved (barely) from the wrecking ball in 1993, and renovated for Broadway touring shows in 1998, the 1921 Allen Theatre, designed by C. Howard Crane, may soon be converted into a new home for Cleveland’s Playhouse and Cleveland State University’s theater programs. The proposal would significantly reduce the seating in the main auditorium to barely a fifth of its current 2,500, alter the rake of the floor, extend the lobby into the seating area currently under the balcony, and make significant changes to balcony level seating. Most architectural details would be preserved, though some would be partially obscured by new acoustical panels. Two additional black box theaters would be constructed adjacent to the Allen. There is a comprehensive article, including pictures and sketches of the additions and alterations, here and a timeline of the Allen’s history here.
This sounds terrible. But it is better than demolition if the Allen is not currently pulling its weight.
I wanted to be objective when I posted this, but now, as a commentator, I really want to vent. Frankly I think is horrendous. The Cleveland Playhouse (CPH) has not been the prestige regional theater it used to be for many years. Unfortunately, not unlike other venerable arts organizations in other cities, it has fallen victim to egos, conflicting “artistic visions,” complicated by funding issues common these days to many institutions that depend both on audiences and philanthropy.
But what really gets my dander up is the fact that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the CPH went on a major and successful fundraising drive to build their previous home, the Bolton complex, which was designed by the distinguished architect (and Cleveland native) Philip Johnson, that gave them a state-of- the-art-theater and education complex in Cleveland’s University Circle area, not far from the Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall. Then (probably because they had trouble filling seats) they up and sell the complex to the Cleveland Clinic which will probably tear it down, after only about thirty-odd years of use.
Now, they somehow convince the Playhouse Square Association, (PSA) which rescued the Allen (demolition had actually begun at one point) and raised and poured millions into it to make it an appropriate place for Broadway and other big proscenium shows in the 1990s to let them have the theater. Incredibly, the PSA agrees to this desecration, justifying the decision on some flimsy pretext about the diminishing availability of Broadway blockbusters (unconvincing – especially as a Broadway show will be playing there right up until the time the Allen is supposedly to close for this atrocious retrofitting). It is dumbfounding to me that the PSA was convinced (even if it thought, plausibly, that the CPH would be a nice “fit” in Playhouse Square) to allow a stunning, expensively restored, 2,500 seat, C. Howard Crane masterpiece to be turned into a 513 seat “intimate venue” because the CPH deems the place inappropriate for THEIR needs? This is insane. What makes the CPH or the PSA think that, if the Playhouse could not fill the seats at the Bolton complex’s theaters, they will do better downtown at the Allen? What happened to the PSA’s original vision of restoring these theaters? There’s a failure of mission and marketing here on a grand scale. I can’t imagine Chicago, which was a latecomer to downtown movie palace restoration, now allowing the Cadillac Palace, the Ford Center/Oriental, the Chicago, or the Shubert (sorry, Bank of America Theater —– ugh) to be turned into some “intimate space” just because some civic theater deemed it too large.
I guess, though, the handwriting may have been on the wall, when the PSA decided the Hanna would be better off as “cabaret” space. At the time, though I wished for a more traditional renovation, it did not strike me as such a radical departure. Clearly, this was a harbinger of worse things to come.
I understand very well that there is no free lunch and that theater restoration and maintenance costs are high and that no theater is well-served standing around empty. But before embarking on such a scheme, should not the CPH have proved it could bring an audience downtown by staging some shows at the Hanna or the Ohio?
If I were a corporate or a private donor to either the PSA or the CPH, I would be livid. I would demand the CPH pay back all those millions that built the Bolton and not give either the CPH or the PSA a dime for this. While I would not disagree that the CPH might be a good fit for Playhouse Square in general, they should get their donors to build them some black box theaters in some disused office buildings nearby.
Hell!!! might as well park cars in the auditorium like the Michigan!!!!
I completely agree CWalczak, on all counts.
Usually when something makes as little sense as this it is because some kind of ridiculous, self-serving back room deal has been made. I would bet $50 that something of that nature has occurred here.