If you grew up in Marietta, Ohio anywhere between 1911 and 1985, you were well aware of the legacy created by the Peoples Bank Theatre (formerly also called the Hippodrome, Shea Theatre and the Colony Theatre). Opened before “talking pictures” were even heard of, the original theatre was a vaudeville house, hosting live traveling acts, music, plays and “lantern shows.”
For many at the time, and throughout the years, the Theatre has played an important role in our community’s entertainment and tourism offerings, and has brought in many national acts, films and events. Hunt Brawley, Director of Development for the Theatre, noted guests such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Minnie Pearl and Jimmy Stewart graced our Theatre’s stage during their careers.
The venue has also been a movie theater, starting with the first silent films, and showing many new and classic films, over the years. Rock Hudson attended the world premier of the movie Battle Hymn (in which he played a starring role), along with other well-known celebrities and 25,000+ fans, at (what was then known as) our Marietta Colony Theatre. And many locals recall watching movies such as the original Star Wars and the Rocky Horror Picture Show on the Theatre’s large silver screen, as well as the films of the well-known Colony Film Festival.
Thirty years ago, this beautiful and historic landmark closed its doors to the public. After changing hands and falling under the challenges of repair needs, it sat empty for decades. But the community never gave up on the hope that one day, the theatre would regain its original glory.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Mr. Brawley, the funds were raised to fully restore Peoples Bank Theatre to its original beauty that has dazzled thousands. Now a gorgeous tribute to times before, over 900 guests can view acts in a performance hall and stage that truly doesn’t have a bad seat in the house. The top notch lighting and sound systems, as well as the friendly staff, round out the experience, and bring promise to the potential of a bright future at Peoples Bank Theatre.
Our community has absolutely missed this landmark, as evidenced by their enthusiastic support. Both shows, January 8th’s Cirque-tacular performance (http://www.cirquetacular.com), as well as January 9th’s Travis Tritt acoustic concert were both completely sold out well before the weekend arrived. In addition to the performances the attendees “expected” to see, guests were delighted to experience live calliope music, magic shows and fire breathing on the night of the Cirqu-tacular show. Taylor Sams, a local musician, sang and played guitar in the mezzanine lobby prior to country music star Travis Tritt’s performance on the main stage.
Tad Emptage of Cirque-tacular Entertainment (a circus-style, vaudevillian, acrobatic, performance show) said they were “absolutely honored to open the theatre” on opening night. Live performance is such a special opportunity in that “grandma and grandchild can experience together on the same level.”
Emptage feels the timing of the theatre’s re-opening is spot-on, as we may have come to a point where many have been saturated with technology, removed from face-to-face contact and interactions, and possibly leading to some breakdown in communication and socialization. He believes many of us are growing tired of the disconnect, and are looking for ways to interact on a more human (face-to-face) level. Many of the acts within the Cirque-tacular show, as well as Travis Tritt’s concert the following evening, involved conversation with the crowd, and the audience loved it. Cirque-tacular often pulled volunteers from the audience, and asked for (and earned) cheers, clapping and response to many of the happenings on stage.
Tritt also kept the audience engaged by sharing personal stories and jokes, as well as playing a song he’d never before performed, live. Both nights were fully immersive, engaging and magical. There’s something about being a part of an audience where the performers see you, that pulls you in and makes you a part of the magic.
Emptage is also proud to mention that their New York based troupe of 300 part-time (around 30 full-time) performers are a rare collection of an all-American team. Each member brings their own unique skill set to the stage, and fits the needs of their ever-evolving show themes that are offered in their repertoire.
In addition to the full lineup of national, local, film, performance and all-around entertainment acts and events planned for this coming year, Brawley was excited to share that the Colony Short Film Festival will once again take place at the Theatre. This is such a wonderful event, bringing film lovers from all over together. There will also be at least one film premier taking place on the big screen within the Theatre, this year. Brawley mentions he is thrilled to be able to turn the lights on at Peoples Bank Theatre, and show films for the festival, this year.
Many attendees noted what a beautiful job had been done in creating this new space. Several mentioned they’d never seen the original space – either because they hadn’t lived here, pre-1986, or in some cases, hadn’t been born, yet. The only access multiple patrons had had before last weekend was through participation in a local ghost and/or loft tour. But during those tours, the People’s Bank Theatre had been completely gutted of seats and decor. The transformation has been breathtaking. And there’s so much more, to come.
Michelle Waters grew up in Akron, Ohio, but now hugs the border of Ohio and West Virginia, working in Marietta, Ohio for REsolve (Art) Studios, while living in Parkersburg, W.Va. She teaches photo transfer processes and offers art mentoring to local students, while also running her own photography business (Michelle Waters Photography). Live music, good food, good laughs and friends and family make her life.
Photography by the lovely Michelle Waters