Western Reserve was featured in Akron Life Magazine

If you haven’t been to Western Reserve Playhouse for a while — or ever — you might not recognize it. The barn that houses this community theater has stood in the same spot since 1886, but the past year and three months have seen big changes both inside and out, mostly due to the boundless energy and vision of the new artistic director, Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski.

“We’re trying to do something beautiful,” says the Peninsula native.

With a background singing opera since childhood as well as directing both regular and musical theater productions at venues that include The University of Akron, Woodridge High School and Independence Community Theater, she brings a wealth of ideas and experience to the playhouse’s 63rd season.

Since taking the position of artistic director a little over a year ago, Sniadak-Yamokoski has broadened the theater’s programming from three shows a year to at least one event every month, including eight main-stage shows, two to three youth shows and a $5 Bucks series of staged readings. “The biggest thing is, we added heat and proper air conditioning, so we can have it all year-round,” she says, noting the past summers-only schedule.

Other physical improvements include raising the theater’s 95 vintage seats onto a platform, extending the stage, installing LED stage lights, revamping the will-call area and adding a barn-wood bar for concessions.

And that’s just the beginning, as far as Sniadak-Yamokoski is concerned. She’d like to finish the basement with a proper shop, shower for the actors and classrooms. She also plans more landscaping around the barn, awnings over the actors’ entrance and getting the restrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For a nonprofit that relies on grants, donations and ticket sales for funding, Sniadak-Yamokoski’s wish list of improvements is daunting, but it’s all necessary to spur the theater to put on meaningful shows that challenge the community to experience different perspectives and give back. For example, during the April 2018 production of the musical “Dogfight,” about military friends who play a cruel game in a bar, donating patrons raised money for Wags 4 Warriors, a Brecksville nonprofit that pairs service dogs with veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. And this Nov. 2-17, see “Hay Fever” about a couple whose quiet weekend is upended when their children bring home unique guests.

“I have countless emails of people who said that their lives were changed within a moment from our stage,” she says. “It’s our job to make them feel something and to make them know they’ve come to a space where they can explore new ideas.”

-Sharon Best