Western Reserve Playhouse Plans First Year-Round Season

10/12/2017 – West Side Leader

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By Kathleen Folkerth

Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski and Brian Westerley are heading up a new era at Western Reserve Playhouse in Bath. They are shown seated at the theater’s new bar area.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth

BATH — The lights will be on — and the heating and air conditioning, when needed — all year at Western Reserve Playhouse (WRP) starting in January.After 61 years as a summer-only venue, the theater housed in a 161-year-old barn at 3326 Everett Road will feature a greatly expanded schedule of shows, as well as theater education and community performance opportunities in 2018.

Earlier this year, the board overseeing the theater named Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski artistic director and Brian Westerley co-artistic director. Westerley said the paid staff positions were in the theater’s bylaws but had not been filled until now.

Sniadak-Yamokoski, a Peninsula resident and Woodridge High School graduate, said she ran her own theater in Cleveland for several years but put that on hold when she got married and had children. With her children now a little older, the idea of getting back into running a theater was appealing, she said.

At the same time, Westerley, of Stow, was also interested in working for a theater after directing and appearing in shows throughout the area. He is an Akron native who has also worked professionally in New York and Los Angeles.

The two knew each other through friends but only met about a year ago. After they both were added to the WRP board and found they worked together well, they proposed teaming up to take on greater roles in the organization. The board unanimously agreed, they said.

Once that happened, in May, they had less than a month before the start of the 2017 season, for which the shows had already been scheduled.

“We didn’t sleep a lot that first month,” Westerley said.

The two weren’t just focusing on the season’s three productions; they also delved into some projects to improve the theater’s space. They first launched a crowdfunding effort that quickly raised $2,600 to put toward new heating and air conditioning.

“People got excited when they saw what we were doing,” said Sniadak-Yamokoski.

Using volunteers and donations, other projects also got attention: a new bar was added to the back of the theater (which has a liquor license) to replace the old concession stand, the stage was extended and the lobby was refurbished. Wi-Fi was added to the entire building, and plans call for the addition of a few high-top tables to encourage socializing before shows and during intermissions.

With the 2017 season now complete, Sniadak-Yamokoski and Westerley are now looking ahead to their expanded 2018 season, which they just announced.

“I am thrilled by how well we worked on the second season,” said Sniadak-Yamokoski. “We didn’t have a lot of disagreements.”

Westerley added it helped that he’s more of a fan of plays and his colleague loves musicals. The season features a few of both styles, ranging from new works to old favorites.

The plays to be performed in 2018 are Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” Jan. 26-Feb. 10; “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” May 11-26; “Terms of Endearment,” Aug. 17-Sept. 1; “Little Women,” Oct. 5-20; and “Hay Fever,” Nov. 2-17.

Musicals on the schedule are “Tomorrow Morning,” March 9-24; “Dogfight,” April 13-28; Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.,” June 22-24; “Into the Woods,” June 29-July 1; and “Bare: A Pop Opera,” July 13-28.

The artistic directors said they are excited about bringing “Tomorrow Morning” to the stage. WRP will be the first theater to produce the work in the state. The book, music and lyrics are by Laurence Mark Wythe, based in London, and he will work closely with WRP on the show.

Also planned next October is the second annual 80 Minute Play Festival, which will feature performances of four new 20-minute plays submitted by the public. Submission information will be available in the near future.

In addition to the full year of shows, WRP also will begin to offer youth and adult theater classes. Sniadak-Yamokoski said she’d also like to offer workshops, such as dancing for actors, to help performers prepare for auditions. She and Westerley would also like to have a workshop on stage lighting design.

In the barn’s lower level, which still has part of the dirt floor from its early use as a dairy barn, Sniadak-Yamokoski and Westerley are planning to eventually build out an area for classrooms and better dressing rooms for performers. They’ve already added a “real” bathroom for performers so they no longer have to use the portable unit outside the barn.

The barn’s top level is full of costumes and props from years of shows — 2,400 square feet, to be exact. Sniadak-Yamokoski said she would like the theater to have a resident costumer to oversee a costume shop.

The two are also hoping the addition of activity at the theater will bring in more volunteers.

“If anyone wants to be involved, we want to grow this family,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “We’ll put you to work, and we’ll appreciate you.”

With the Akron area full of several small theater groups, WRP’s new artistic directors said they believe their changes can help the theater stand out.

“We’re not the richest theater, but that’s where creativity comes in,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said. “I want every person to leave and go, ‘Wow, I was moved by their artists.’”

The two also did a comprehensive study of ticket prices and found there was room for a slight increase. Single tickets are $17, or $15 for seniors 65 and older and students.

“We didn’t raise it much, but it will support the season,” Sniadak-Yamokoski said.

Season tickets are available for $100 for eight shows or $55 for a Flex Pass that allows admittance to four shows. Those options do not include the “Lion King Jr.” and “Into the Woods” performances, which are part of the WRP’s Young Artists’ Theatre Program. Those single tickets will be $10.

For more information, go to westernreserveplayhouse.org or call 330-620-7314.