Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Youngstown Playhouse

Do your remember going on field trips to the Youngstown Playhouse as a kid? I do. I can’t remember the plays we watched but I remember the Cat Lady who came out to welcome us and talked to us before the plays.

The Youngstown Playhouse has a long history in Youngstown. In the 1920’s, Youngstown was a stopover place for national stars like the Barrymores, Al Jolson, and Walter Hampden. Area residents wanted a more ongoing opportunity for live theatre based in and open for community participation. The Youngstown Playhouse website says “In the early 1920’s, four ladies from Rodef Sholom began reading plays for their own enjoyment.”  In 1927, several drama organizations came together and formed the Youngstown Players.

Originally, they performed in a converted barn at Arlington Street and Lincoln Avenue. People from every walk of life participated. The key ingredient was hard work, which people in Youngstown knew how to do. Talent followed.

In 1942, the Playhouse moved to an abandoned theatre on Market Street. Then, in 1959 they moved to their new (and current) home on 600 Playhouse Lane off Glenwood Avenue.

Over the years, the Playhouse has been the starting point for a number of artists. Two of the better known are actress Elizabeth Hartman, who starred with Sidney Poitier in A Patch of Blue, and John DeMain, a Grammy award winning symphony conductor, who I wrote about recently in a post on the Youngstown Symphony, where he served as acting director during the 1980’s. He currently is the music director for the Madison (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra.

The Playhouse is still going strong, offering a season of nine productions in 2019-2020. They offer a Summer Theatre Intensive for aspiring actors under 18 as well, other children’s educational programming, as well as opportunities for community involvement as volunteers, as actors in productions and patrons. The Playhouse receives no taxpayer funding and relies exclusively on revenues from grants, donations, and ticket sales–no small feat. James McClellan is the current operations manager and Johnny Peccano the technical coordinator.

24 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Youngstown Playhouse

  1. I loved going to the Playhouse as a kid and continued going to performances regularly until I moved out of the Youngstown area 20 years ago. I took one of my sons to an audition for A Christmas Carol back in the 90s and he was hooked, too. After acting in a few children’s theater productions, he continued to be involved in all aspects of production until he left the area, as well. I cannot say enough good things about this Youngstown treasure! Most performances have rivaled any Broadway performance I’d ever seen. Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy of Married with Children fame and Ursuline High grad) also acted at the Youngstown Playhouse.

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  2. Didn’t they do a theater in the round type of stage. My mother was good friends with one of the players- Vera Friedman and we we went to a number of productions.
    Joe Keogh

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      • I knew Vera Friedman quite well when the Playhouse was on Market St. I acted in plays directed by Arthur Sircom. Joe Flynn and I were in I Remember Mama together. I was Peter Thorkelson. Arthur Sircom directed.
        Stalag 17 was a big hit. We had a great bunch of actors in that one.
        I am still doing a few things. Appeared last fall in Comedy Central’s TV series South Side. Comedy Central’s a great group with which to work.

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  3. Grandma lived down the street, on Linwood. The Playhouse was one of the first places we cousins were permitted to go without adult supervision. Volunteered in high school, learned my way around a paintbrush. This was a good part of growing up – hope it all survives the Covid shutdown.

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  4. The Children’s Theater at Youngstown Playhouse served as a most important influence in my young life. The first play I saw there was Rumplestiltskin. It all seemed like Magic! In 1963, I performed in Chinatown Detective and, later, in Land of the Dragon. My sister took to the stage in Robin Hood. Our stage director was a bundle of energy named Miss Frank. I owe her a debt of gratitude for introducing me to theater, a life-long love.

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  5. Bob you have struck a good nerve in me i grew up on Glenwood Ave five houses up from the Playhouse on the same side of the street , Me and some neighborhood locals use to play football in the parking lot picking our opportunities carefully , In my adult years I had an opportunity to be in a play at the playhouse titled Christmas Is Comin Uptown in 2001 , I must also mention that one of the neighborhood locals I played football with Stanley Foster who is an American of African Descent would often acted in plays at the Playhouse he would go on to act and star in a CBS television series named Tour Of Duty which had a three year run and numerous movies , The Playhouse will always hold a very special place in my heart .
    Thanks Bob
    Joseph Napier Sr .
    Napiervision Productions

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  6. My mother sent me to summer camp there, early 1960’s. I loved it…we sang, danced, put on a play, made puppets. What an enriching program it was, and was the beginning of my love for theater. I was 12, I believe.

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  7. Thank you for taking me down memory lane. My sisters Kim and Sheila Goldich were involved in several productions. My mom Carole Goldich volunteered and always says it was the Best time of her life!! Thank you!

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  8. I lived up the hill from the Playhouse on Glenwood. Watched it being built. I was probably in a dozen productions of the Children’s Theatre from 59 to 65 and worked tech on many more. The Children’s Theatre had a Junior Board. It was a great leadership development opportunity. I also did tech stuff for the adult productions and had a bit part in a production of Comedy of Errors and in the production of JB. For me it truly was a play house!

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