A facelift to Cincinnati's Price Hill neighborhood could come in the form of theater, if the local community is interested in helping.
Tim Perrino, artistic director for the Showboat Majestic, wants to convert the former Covedale Cinema Grill in Price Hill into a new performing arts center for Cincinnati Young People's Theater (CYPT), a group of young actors between the ages of 13 and 19. CYPT currently produces one large musical annually at the Westwood Town Hall.
Renovating Covedale Cinema would offer the 20-year-old company a chance to grow its season. It would also help the West Side overcome its blue-collar reputation as a part of town that won't support the arts.
I'm one of those aspiring actresses who crisscross Cincinnati looking for opportunities to perform onstage. There were few opportunities to perform in a play at my high school in Union, Kentucky. My drama teachers emphasized speech-writing skills instead of acting lessons.
By the time I enrolled at Northern Kentucky University, I felt untalented compared to other drama students. I wish I'd had a group like CYPT nearby to give me a chance to try acting at an earlier age.
I would have liked to learn early on if I had the basic skills to pursue drama in college. I think I would have really enjoyed myself at CYPT, and I imagine many West Side teens feel the same way.
Perrino sees things a little differently. He's promoting the Covedale project as an economic development plan that can generate money for surrounding Price Hill businesses. He envisions CYPT audiences patronizing local restaurants before and after shows. It's an economic philosophy that helped get downtown's Aronoff Center built, and Perrino sees no reason why it can't work in Price Hill, too.
In fact, if you believe the common wisdom that Westsiders don't regularly patronize programs at the Aronoff Center, Playhouse in the Park or Music Hall, Perrino says that's another strong reason to support the Covedale project. Build a West Side arts center that offers affordable programming for families disinclined to venture downtown.
Already, Perrino's dream is more fact than folly. Councilman John Cranley, chair of Cincinnati City Council's finance committee, has pledged $250,000 in funds if matched by private donations. At a Feb. 23 rally outside the now-vacant Covedale theater, Cranley expressed his support to an enthusiastic crowd.
"All great civilizations have been hallmarked by great theater, and the West Side is no different," Cranley told the project's supporters. Now, it's up to these grass-roots volunteers to raise the necessary money.
"One woman took the time to send in $5, and that's a lot for someone who lives on a fixed income," Perrino said, speaking a few days after the weekend rally. "There are a lot of good people in the world. These people believe in you and your project enough to send in their savings."
Perrino's dream plan will add an elaborate backstage to the former movie theater auditorium. He promises to retain the historic look of the theater while upgrading the marquee into something bold and flashy.
Still, bricks and mortar are only a small portion of the Covedale story. Perrino's dream will give more young people a chance to perform onstage. An energized CYPT in a professional space will help young people decide whether to invest the time and money in acting careers.
The folks at City Hall will tell you their support for Perrino's CYPT project is all about neighborhood development. I'm telling you that renovating the Covedale is about making a positive impact on children's lives.
In Perrino's project, both agendas have a home.
CityBeat intern Julie Stratton is a journalism student at Northern Kentucky University and an aspiring stage actor.