Press

Bath County Journal – 2019

Western Reserve Playhouse expands offerings while preserving theater’s history

As a theater that found its home in a 163-year-old former dairy barn – “We swear you can still hear mooing at night,” joked Executive Artistic Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski – the Western Reserve Playhouse has undergone its fair share of transformations over the years.

The nonprofit theater group, located at 3326 Everett Rd. in Bath, formed 63 years ago. Until four years ago, shows were only performed in the summer, as the historic space lacked heat or air conditioning. Now, Sniadak-Yamokoski is preparing to open the theater’s yearlong 2020 season, reflecting on the changes the playhouse made this past year and focusing on the renovations to come in the new year.

Basement conversion

Behind the theater’s stage and down a stairwell lies the project WRP plans to execute throughout 2020. Past the dressing rooms and a green-room area, a 3,200-square-foot unfinished space lined with old stone walls and brimming with tools and other supplies is awaiting its transformation.

“This is where you see the history of the barn,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “This is where you see the 163 years. This was built with some of the best structural engineering that they’ve seen. This thing has not had any damage. … I mean, it’s not cold down here; it’s insulated. So all of this stuff here is old rock; this was the foundation. Now, if we peeled off all the paint and repainted this, this would be stunning, and that’s the game plan.”

A dedicated classroom space will allow the theater to expand its education program. WRP hired Education Director August Scarpelli, a former Hiram College adjunct professor, in 2019, along with a staff of six teachers.

“I just had my kids do a little one-day camp with them, just to kind of see, and if you can get my middle kid excited about theater, that’s impressive,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “We’re going to be launching – finally – a solid education program.”

The program will expand on the theater’s three summer camps for ages 3-19. New classes will be offered to all ages.

“Our goal is to be teaching from potty-trained all the way up to 99,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

Right now, staff and volunteers are clearing the large, open space so concrete can be poured on the floors to make way for a new, sensory-friendly community area.

“Our goal is to have a giant TV down here,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “… Let’s say you have somebody who has a sensory issue, but they want to see theater. You want a safe, comfortable area. They’ll be able to come and watch the entire theater and feel free to be vocal or do whatever they need to do.”

Another part of the space will be transformed into the theater’s shop, with new doors and windows, proper storage and space for tools.

2019 improvements

Earlier this year, through local grants, WRP expanded its parking lot and added a cement pad to make the entrance wheelchair-accessible. The front door area was extended, “so the steps are no longer dangerous,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

On the main level – which features a stage, 95 vintage 1950s-era movie theater seats and a bar ­– lights and sound will soon be upgraded, leaving the public restrooms to be renovated.

In 2019, adding on to its eight-show regular season, WRP introduced the $5 Bucks Series, a lineup of one-off professional staged readings for $5. Actors sit on stools, sans props or set.

“It’s all about the words,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “It’s the true art form of storytelling. … You really have to enunciate the acting; you really have to enunciate the characterization.

“It’s where I can push some of our more provocative shows that I’m not 100 percent sure my audience is quite ready for … or maybe it’s something that I’m not sure how it’s going to fit into a season. … Or it could be a brand-new work, where it has no longevity of success.”

In December, WRP hired administrative assistant Hannah Hilty, who is upgrading the theater’s website and social media presence.

“She’s giving a new, fresh look to the theater, which is really exciting,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

At the bar, specialty drinks have become a patron favorite, she said.

“We have a mixologist who comes in and creates drinks for each show that are quite delicious,” said Sniadak-Yamokoski.

Future plans

The Ohio Arts Council granted WRP funds for a new program called the Young Playwright Festival, scheduled for October. Entrants ages 5-19 can submit plays following a theme, Sniadak-Yamokoski said. Winners will be selected to create a series that equals about a two-hour program, and adult actors will perform the plays.

“Here’s the catch: the kids are going to costume us,” she said. “The kids are going to help us with designing the backdrop. And the kids are going to direct us.”

Adults with directing experience will mentor the children, she said.

“Kids are so darn freer than we are,” said Sniadak-Yamokoski. “Their creativity is just unbelievable; the things that they come up with, I would never think of. … I want adults to see that kids have a voice that we need to hear. Sometimes, we forget that they have ideas that are so beautiful. Let’s showcase that.”

Sniadak-Yamokoski said that as the theater continues to grow, it’s selling out more shows.

“This is the largest start of the new year with season ticket holders,” she said. “We’ve quadrupled the people who’ve bought in advance. We’re winning awards, and I’m really doing everything I can to make Bath proud.

“People are coming here for a good time, and then they’re falling in love with Bath. So many of our actors come from Akron or Cleveland, so there’s a lot of brand-new people coming into Bath, and they’re like, ‘What a beautiful area this is.’”

That’s why one of her goals in 2020 is to partner with local businesses to sponsor shows.

About 8,000 people came through the barn’s doors in 2019, and Sniadak-Yamokoski said 10,000-12,000 are projected for 2020. The theater can hold up to 125 guests at a time.

“We still keep the same motto: a hug or a handshake,” she said. “If anyone ever walks in and they need a hug, we’re here if they want that.”

Also new for 2020 is a cabaret series, coordinated by Patrick Hanlon, who came to Sniadak-Yamokoski with the idea of cabarets that correspond in theme with shows in the regular lineup.

For example, the first show of the year, “Blithe Spirit,” follows a man haunted by the ghost of his first wife, who wreaks havoc on his second marriage. A cabaret on Broadway villains will accompany it, Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

Upstairs, above the bar, an array of props and well over 5,000 costumes lie in storage. A sealed latch door keeps warmth downstairs, as the upstairs is not heated. There, some features of the old barn are still visible, like a pulley and sky-high ladders.

Artistic Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski stands in the massive prop storage area in the historic barn that houses Western Reserve Playhouse. Photo by J. Mitchell

“Eventually, what we’d like to do is actually have a legit costume shop up here,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

Local roots

Theater patrons will likely see members of Sniadak-Yamokoski’s family there, too, including her 5-year-old daughter, who sometimes works the door, her other two children, ages 8 and 9, and her husband, parents and sister.

Sniadak-Yamokoski lives in Peninsula and grew up in the area.

“If I had lived on the other side of the street, I would have gone to Revere, but I went to Woodridge. … But I grew up in this area; I know Bath like the back of my hand,” she said.

Before coming to WRP four years ago, she worked as a voice and theater teacher and directed plays at high schools. She also traveled around the country as a professional performer for 33 years.

More recently, she and her husband, Jeff, ran a small interactive murder mystery theater, the Unknown Theatre Company, in the basement of the former Powerhouse Pub in Cleveland’s Flats district, now home to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.

Though the WRP has seen many changes since Sniadak-Yamokoski’s arrival, guests can still see one of the barn’s original wooden walls in the will call area.

An original wall from the old dairy barn is still visible in the will call area. Photo by J. Mitchell

“I thought it was really important; when you live in a town like Bath, you need to preserve the history,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “You can make changes, but the history is what made it special.” For more information, visit thewrp.org.

WRP

 

Featured image photo caption: Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski, Western Reserve Playhouse’s executive artistic director, leans against the old stone wall in the theater’s basement, which will soon be converted into an education space, sensory-friendly viewing area and workshop. Photo by J. Mitchell

Akron Community Fund – Bath Community Fund – 2019

Playhouse improvements increase safety, accessibility for patrons

Recent grants from Bath Community Fund are making a local theater more accessible to senior citizens and people with disabilities.

In 2018, the fund awarded a $1,000 grant to Western Reserve Playhouse to support the construction of a new entryway as part of a larger beautification project to upgrade the theater’s grounds and make its main entrance ADA compliant.

“The rebuilding of the front entryway is a phenomenal improvement not only to first impressions, but also for addressing an expressed safety concern for many of our patrons,” said Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski, executive artistic director for Western Reserve Playhouse.

By making the entryway more accessible to senior citizens and people with disabilities, the playhouse is able to engage with area nursing homes and invite their residents to attend preview shows at no cost. The former gravel entryway often deterred these groups from visiting the playhouse, said Sniadak-Yamokoski, adding that the upgrade also allows the theater to include actors who use wheelchairs in its performances and classes.

“We want to create a campus that can be enjoyed safely by all members of our community, where residents young and old can share experiences and create memories,” she said.

This year, Bath Community Fund awarded another capital improvement grant to Western Reserve Playhouse to build a new entryway for its basement. Similar to its main entrance, the new basement entryway will make the theater’s acting classroom accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Construction is scheduled to be completed in spring 2020 and will include a new steel entry door, security lighting and a gabled roof portico.

“These projects will create a very functional and attractive facility where our vision of providing affordable drama education within the Bath community can be realized,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “We’re so grateful for the support from Bath Community Fund and the impact they have had on our theater.”

See the full list of grants Bath Community Fund has awarded in its history.

Akron Life Magazine – 2018

The Big Show

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November 1, 2018 – RSS