Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Play House's new home, renovated Allen Theater, debuts


The Cleveland Play House welcomed theater fans and curious downtowners into its new home, the renovated Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare, last night. Hundreds came to see the renovated theater, departing on tours every few minutes.

The Allen, which began life in 1921 as a cavernous 2,800-seat movie house and hosted Broadway plays, ballet and opera over the past 20 years, has been remade as a comfortable, intimate 500-seat theater. Inside the now-smaller theater, the historic ceiling and walls are still visible behind acoustic reflectors. The new seats are soft and huge, the leg room generous, a big change from the cramped rows of the Play House's former theaters at its location near the Cleveland Clinic.

Tour-takers walked through the classic 1921 lobby and into a new inner lobby, a very contemporary-looking space with moody lighting and glass partitions, created where the Allen's distant rear seating used to be.

The renovation is daring, a big change to a historic theater. But the Allen has been little-used in recent years, and its 2,500-seat capacity wasn't a good fit for the Play House. The new, smaller space has about the same number of seats as the theaters in its former home.

The tours explored the seating, the stage, and backstage areas. In a dressing room and an alcove, master's degree theater students from CWRU enacted scenes from plays that professional actors will put on later in the season. Two undergrads from Cleveland State, which will also use the new theater, performed a scene from Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist classic No Exit. Not part of the tour were the Allen's new second stage and lab space, still under construction.

The Play House's season begins Friday with The Life of Galileo. To read more about the Play House's move, read our article from the September issue, "Second Act."

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