Dramatic Expansion at ETC

Theaters, Actors, Etc.

Mar 5, 2008 at 2:06 pm
ETC and GBBN Architects

Conceptual drawing of the new Ensemble Theatre

For more than two decades, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) has suffered with a tough location in Over-the-Rhine at 1127 Vine St. During the 2001 riots, incited by the shooting of Timothy Thomas only a block away, they were forced out of their historic building during rehearsals for a show. When the Gateway Garage and condos were built, convenient parking temporarily disappeared. The intersection of 12th and Vine streets was, for many years, a notorious location for drug deals.

Today their location has become a blessing. The neighborhood is visibly improving — there's a flower shop next door, restaurants up the street and nearby parking. Through thick and thin, ETC's producing artistic director D. Lynn Meyers has kept the faith. A few years ago the theater acquired the adjacent 1125 Bar for its administrative offices. But space remained cramped. Meyers looked longingly at 1117 Vine, a onetime department store used by Deveroes as a warehouse, but its owners were not interested in selling.

Until recently.

Early this year ETC Managing Director Rick Diehl walked by and was surprised to see the roll-up garage doors open, revealing beautiful store windows — and a "For Sale" sign. Meyers doubted him, but a walk next door confirmed his report. They moved quickly, contacting the sales agent and ETC's board, chaired by Steve King, a veteran real estate attorney. The asking price was reasonable, and longtime supporters Ken and Murph Mahler (who with Ruth and John Sawyer originally purchased ETC's main building) made the purchase, enabling ETC to buy it from them on reasonable terms.

The result means dramatic expansion. The purchase doubles ETC's space to 30,000 square feet. The new facility will provide space for on-site technical support (scenery has been built elsewhere and moved into the theater through ETC's front door), new offices and meeting rooms, expanded box office and lobby space (including an outside courtyard) as well as a refurbished but still intimate theater space, seating around 200.

The overall renovation project, which ETC estimates could be finished to kick off the 2010 season, needs funding in the vicinity of $6.5 million to execute designs conceived by GBBN Architects; just shy of a quarter of that amount is already in hand with support from the city of Cincinnati and the state of Ohio. The new space will enhance operations — Meyers says shows could run a week longer thanks to technical efficiencies — not to mention comfort and access for audiences.

Meyers has been with ETC for 12 years — stemming from an invite in 1996 to help out for a few months. "I tell my staff," she says, "that the day I'm not excited by what we're doing here, I won't come back." It looks as if she'll be coming back a while longer. It's one more sign that Over-the-Rhine is the place to be for the arts.

Contact Rick Pender: [email protected]