Although it is situational, retreating to one’s city of origin after an exciting, possibly life-altering experience in another can seem to be a setback. Even with friends in the area to cushion the blow, the return can be emotionally difficult, with others’ perceptions ranging from expressions of joy to judgement, given separate opinions about the trip back to a place of safety. In this shared excerpt of the chapter that’s currently being written, these partnered actors discuss the plan that led them back to their roots in a mid-sized Ohio town and how that idea was cultivated to great success. Again, the copy is in its initial phases, and the actor’s names are changed as well.
“Neither of us was getting work in Manhattan. We were cleaning apartments!” Kelly laughed, his glance shifting just across Dayton’s Second Avenue toward the Schuster Theater in which they would rehearse later that afternoon. “We would clean apartments during the day- lovely ones where we looked out on the balcony- and then either drive or take the train to Nyack and do shows there. We cleaned a lot of really ritzy apartments- – but we were still cleaning apartments! But then, Sarah called and asked if we would come back to help with Muse Machine…”
“So we sat down and discussed the pros and cons of moving back.” Stephen averred, lightly tapping the rim of his paper cup against the tabletop. “We asked, ‘Are we going back with our tails between our legs?’ and both decided that, if we were going to do this, it had to be a positive retreat and that we had to go back to Dayton, Ohio, to do something. So we met with Marianne and decided that whatever monies we had from Illumination Theater that [were] in the bank would be the seed money for a new company. And, as Sarah had requested, we came back to help with Muse Machine too.”
Once fully transferred back to Dayton, Ohio in 1986, the creative team behind what was later named the Human Race convened to write a charter for their new theater production company, each taking a post within it. Since his primary focus was acting, Stephen signed on as Resident Actor, although in time he indulged the occasional directing contract. As for partner Kelly, he adopted the role of Executive Director, solving developmental dilemmas as they arose by working directly with the select group, creating company fundraisers whose reach extended to the entire Dayton community, and serving as spokesperson for the Human Race Theater Company when occasions arose. Because of her interest in play direction, Marianne became a Company Director, with friend and local college professor Bob Headley contracted into the same position. And Sarah became Artistic Director.
And as the proverb reads, “From small beginnings come great things.”
“For the first year, my office was in Sarah’s basement,” the Human Race’s Executive Director remembered. “[That] was where I ran the company from. The Muse Machine’s offices were in Memorial Hall, and I had a little office there too. Count Dracula was put together that year, and so was A Midsummer’s Daydream, an in-school tour with friends Michael, Valerie, and Theresa. The in-school tours continued through ’88, then we renovated the second floor of the Biltmore Hotel and moved all of the offices there. The Muse Space [became] the second floor lobby.”
Spread along Main Street, Dayton’s ninety-year old Biltmore Hotel- named on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982- was designed by architect Frederick J. Hughes in the early 1920s to serve the domestic needs of Midwestern families and road-weary travelers. In its earliest years, it housed leaders and performers like John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley, the latter potentially in concert at the Biltmore’s historic counterpart, The Victoria Theater, itself a short walk away. Eventually neglected and decaying as it neared its Golden Years, though, the structure was ultimately fortified over a period of time with funds provided by Housing and Urban Development and now allots living space for area senior citizens and those with low incomes.
“It was basically untouched,” Kelly stated, referring to their original office area in the Biltmore. “So Sarah and ourselves went out to raise the money to renovate that space. We created an interesting space. There were offices for Muse Machine, The Human Race, a rehearsal space, and a performance area that was basically a black box. It had a kitchen and a backstage, and there were dinners in the front of the building where all of those windows are. But because it was an all-marble floor,” he sighed, waving his right hand, “it was very uneven. So either you were performing on marble, or when platforms were put down, they [were] wedged because nothing would sit level!”
“That includes the audience as well,” Stephen gaffed. “Still, we created what looked like a little alcove.” With this he began to designate the usable performance space by tracing a finger on the tabletop. “If this were the second floor of the Biltmore,” pointing to the imaginary picture he drew, “then a grand staircase came up here. There was a hallway that was all of the offices, and one great room with a glass wall and [another] hallway with windows, which is where light came in. At the end,” he paused, anchoring his finger, “was a little indent that dictated where the theater was, [with] doorways to a backstage area where the dressing rooms were. So we created a bit of a proscenium- limiting because it was such a small space- and literally built our first show into this little alcove. After [it] was done, we started to branch out into the auditorium itself because we could, and funeral seats [were] provided for us for our first two shows…”
“The Sea Horse and The Colored Museum,” Kelly nodded, starting to laugh ironically. “And the risers came from the Philharmonic, so we had funeral chairs and Philharmonic risers!”
By its third production, however, The Human Race saw a more permanent change once the borrowed equipment was returned and their own seats installed in the improvised theater space. Able to move the audience to suit whichever vantage point they considered most pleasing, the Muse Space’s production scale went from a proscenium-styled, classical approach to a varied approach called three-quarter thrust, where stage action is surrounded by spectators on three sides. The consecutive opening seasons of ’87-’88 and ’88-’89, successful in their own rights, permitted each spacial alteration, given their accumulated total of nine shows that ranged from Lyle Kessler’s devastating three-man show, Orphans, to Peter Schafer’s stylish Amadeus. Never knowing where they would be seated from one production to the next, too, patrons enjoyed the feeling of surprise that came with each new visit.
Because of this, the Human Race members secretly began to rue the day of permanent seating, a situation that came, albeit temporarily, in 1990, when their rendition of A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room was told on the stage at the newly restored Victoria Theater. Within the following year, the fledgling troupe relocated their offices to a floor within the Metropolitan Arts Center, a multi-floor structure near the Victoria that houses many local arts organizations in addition to the Human Race’s Loft, a 212-seat theatre that not only was a bowling alley and women’s clothing store formerly, but went on to house nearly sixty Human Race plays within the course of a decade.
IMGarcade Team, “Broadway Sign Black and White,” IMGarcade Website. View date 2/20/15 Link: http://imgarcade.com/1/broadway-sign-black-and-white/
R. Mark Henry, Attorney at Law, “Dayton at Night,” R. Mark Henry Website. View Date 2/20/15 Link: http://www.rmarkhenry.com/areas-of-practice/
Frank X. Brusca,”Biltmore Hotel,” Route 40.net Website. View Date 2/20/15 Link: http://www.route40.net/page.asp?n=487
The Victoria Theatre Association, “The Loft,” Victoria Theatre Association Website, View Date 2/20/15 Link: http://www.victoriatheatre.com/venues/the-loft-theatre/