Oh, the stories you hear…

Oh, the stories you hear while working at this historic theatre…

I had a meeting earlier this month at which I had the privilege of meeting two ladies whom I had never met before.  Because they aren’t from Marion, I assumed they had never been to the Palace…a pleasantly wrong assumption.

While one of them did have her first “ah-ha” moment walking into our amazing theatre, the other surprised me with, “I remember the first time I came to the Palace Theatre.”  She then proceeded to share some details about that first encounter and the memories that visit still evokes.

I hear these stories often and never tire of them.  They are part of the fibers that weave this theatre into the fabric of our community and into our hearts.

My first, while not dramatic, is still a very vivid and pleasant memory.  I can remember coming to the Palace as a child.  My mother took us to the theatre to see Gone With the Wind on the big screen.  It didn’t disappoint.  That film is still one of my all-time favorite movies…I attribute that in part to first seeing it in such grand fashion here at the Palace.

Little did I know then that I’d spend nearly 15 years of my life in this grand setting.  And never could I have imagined the countless stories I’d hear of the impact this theatre has had and is having in the lives of those who have filled these seats and taken this stage.

The other night my friend, and friend of this theatre, Clare Cooke shared with me an essay written by her daughter Kristi when she was in the Miss Ohio competition back in 1991.  Its words resonate with me today.

In it, Kristi shares her “first” at the Palace.

“…I saw my first live stage play at the newly renovated theatre in my hometown of Marion, Ohio.  The 1434-seat theatre was a magnificent sight to a ten-year-old and still is today.  The production was Oliver!.  I recall being so impressed with the singing and dancing of the children who were my age, I told my mother I wanted to do that.  The following year I auditioned and became a member of the cast of Oklahoma!.

Kristi proceeds in her essay to describe what happened not only to her but also within her as a result of that first visit.

“From then on, the Palace Theatre became my second home, and I knew the performing arts would be my career.  I became involved in eight other musicals…The productions required seven weeks of rehearsal during the summer months and two weeks during Christmas break.  At the same time, I enrolled at The Ohio State University and majored in acting.”

She goes on to describe the sacrifices she made to be on stage at her hometown theatre rather than traveling off to parts unknown to do summer stock jobs.  Why?  Why would an aspiring young actress choose home over travel?  Why sacrifice “being discovered” to give back to your community?

I can answer that.  I watch it happen every time a new cast takes the stage.  Family is born through the process of community productions; a sense of belonging created for some who have nowhere else to belong.  Life-long friendships are launched in shared dressing rooms around a common project.  Role models and mentors reach out to lift up a struggling teen or encourage a fellow cast mate.  Lives are woven together.

This place, this historic theatre, that we often take for granted is home to all of this and more.  Kristi said it so well those 20 plus years ago.

“I have watched my community pull together for many causes, but the one focal point of Marion always seems to be that theatre.  I have seen people laugh and cry together.  I have seen them prosper and struggle together.  I have seen them happy and angry, I have seen them silent and “thunderous” and all within that same old grand building.  What other structure can boast such power and generate so many emotions from such diverse people?  None.”

What a powerful place, this Marion Palace Theatre.

And now, this grand lady, so beautifully described, is faced with a challenge, perhaps as great a challenge as undertaken in 1976 when the Palace Guard rallied support to save the Palace and its future.

We learned recently that the “bones” of this historic venue have aged, as one would expect.  She is, after all, 85 years old this year.  If you travel down Center Street, you’ll now see the addition of pedestrian scaffolding under the grand marquee.  Exposure to the elements has caused stress on the masonry and steel that support the vertical and horizontal marquees.  We’re not yet sure what other struggles lie ahead.  For now, we must remove the façade and the two marquees.  After that, further structural inspection will be performed and a determination made on how to proceed to repair this building that is at the heart of so much that has been, is and will be Marion, Ohio.

I hope you’re asking, “What can I do?  How can I help?”  We need a champion.  What form that champion takes is up to each of us.  Would we like a knight in shining armor to ride in on his/her white stallion and save the day?  Absolutely.  So if you know one, could you send him/her our way?

But what is far more likely to happen is this town and its surrounding communities will rally together, just as Kristi wrote in 1991.  Children will break out their piggy banks and donate in dimes and pennies.  We’ll plan special events like 5K Paint Runs and Light the Night run/walks.  We’ll look to service clubs, churches, government officials, downtown merchants, generations of those who have played this stage or enjoyed shows and films here…we need YOU.  We need all of you.  No gift is too small.

Consider this your official invitation to pull together, Marion.  Let’s keep those “first” stories coming for generations to come. If you’d like to share your “first” Palace experience, please email me at bev@marionpalace.org.  Who knows, maybe you’ll be the inspiration for my next blog.

The column was written by Bev Ford, Executive Director of the Marion Palace Theatre.

About Marion Palace Theatre

This historic Marion Palace Theatre located in downtown Marion, Ohio was built by John Eberson in 1928. Over his lifetime, Eberson and his son built hundreds of theatres. The Marion Palace is one of approximately 18 Eberson atmospheric theatres still left standing in the world.

This cultural home is offers a diverse range of year round entertainment opportunities including live performances, movies, educational school matinees, theatre camps and more. More information at www.marionpalace.org