The future of the Geauga Lyric Theater Guild – which has been part of the Chardon community for almost seven decades – remains uncertain with the sudden resignation of four board members last week.
“It is with profound regret that the remaining four members of the Geauga Lyric Theater Guild’s Board of Trustees have submitted their resignations under the bylaws of the organization,” the performing arts group leadership stated on its website on April 7.
In response, Chardon City Council members on April 9 voted to create an ad hoc committee to work with the city staff to find new tenants for the city-owned theater and rehearsal space leased by the guild at 101 Water Street and 106 Water Street.
Chardon City Manager Randy Sharpe last week described the building at 101 Water Street as a small community playhouse with about 200 seats. The city plans to seek new renters that are passionate about theater, Mr. Sharpe added.
“Our goal is now to make it better than it’s been before, because we have this opportunity to reinvent it,” he said. “I’ve already been contacted by at least half a dozen groups who want to run plays on that stage and educational camps out of there.”
Why the lyric theater guild resignations were submitted is uncertain as board members declined further comment. The guild board’s statement hinted that finances were central to the resignations. “The board has labored to save the organization over the last four months since learning the full scope of the issues and debt burden that we uncovered in January.
“But in the end, our efforts could not overcome those challenges as well as recent circumstances,” the statement concluded. Resignations included President Justin Simons, Vice President Tom Bryant, Treasurer Jay White and Recording Secretary Mel May, according to the guild’s statement.
Mr. Sharpe said it was too early to mention groups by name interested in the space. Whoever does move into the theater will do so in partnership with the city to support local arts, he said, allowing the city to effectively waive lease payments.
The city had leased the buildings to the lyric guild for $1 per year.
Last year, the theater group reduced its part-time staff. In January of this year, the board announced a parting with Executive Director Erika Hansen.
In 2018, Geauga Lyric Theater received a $200,000 grant from the Ohio Facility Commission for interior renovations to the performance building at 101 Water St. that included expansion of the women’s restroom and improvements to the lobby for better layout and foot traffic flow.
At that time, Ms. Hansen told the Times that more than 18,000 patrons were coming through the guild’s doors. In 2017, the guild presented 18 full-fledged productions running between one and three weekends, according to Ms. Hansen.
In 2015, Geauga Lyric Theater staged the world premiere of “The Star on My Heart.” The original play was written by Geauga playwright Angela Miloro-Hansen and was based on a book by Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher. The production went on to be performed in other theaters.
Geauga Lyric Theater Guild dates back to 1952 when a group of residents under William Allman formed a summer theater group. The guild was officially named two years later with its first production “The Mikado.”
Over the years, members of the guild troupe have performed at community events including the Chardon Maple Festival and Burton Apple Butter Festival.