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.