Our River Street Playhouse
The River Street Playhouse, located just next door to the main CVLT building at 56 River Street, was founded in 1978. At the time, the building was partitioned into multi-offices. Don Edelman, a long time CVLT supporter, board member, actor and director, convinced Steve Shields (1923 - 2011) to purchase the building as a venue for sometimes unusual and often "edgier" plays, plays that would not be done on the CVLT Main Stage. It would provide a chance to give fledgling directors a place to start and new authors a chance to test their voices. In addition, the building would serve as a scene shop, rehearsal space, and storage facility.
Mr. Edelman, Stan Keller, David Eget, and several others tore out the office partitions, moved a number of scene platforms that had been recently used on the main stage over to the new building, and constructed the original stage and proscenium. Around the same time, The Chagrin Movie Theatre closed down, and so The River Street was able to get some carpeting, curtains and lighting instruments at a very reasonable cost.
Converting an office building into a theatre is not without its problems. The building had to be made acceptable for public assembly. A close friend of the theatre's, Jim Hillshafer was an architect, and guided the project organizers through adding fire sprinklers and other necessities. There was also political wrangling to be done, both with the city and with CVLT's board, which wasn't sure whether a second venue was an affordable option at the time. Fortunately, Mr. Smolik, who was the president of CVLT's Foundation Board at the time, made a substantial contribution to get the new space off the ground.
The initial purpose of the River Street was to offer a space for new authors, high school contests, classical works, readings, and the kind of theatre that would probably not be commercial enough for the Main Stage. The stage there would also serve for rehearsals and set construction, as it was approximately the same size as the Main Stage. After the space became active, members of the CVLT community decided to try and turn the space into a more profitable venture, staging more elaborate commercial works. This proved to be a lot of work, and so the River Street Playhouse was gradually abandoned as a performance space in favor of a Main Stage focus. The River Street went through an eight-year hiatus during which the stage was used purely as a scene shop, and the rest of the building as a rehearsal and storage space.
In the new millenium, with the permission of Steve Shields, the stage returned to a vibrant life, again devoted to fresh, edgy material and works by local playwrights. It was the home of the Shields Players (CVLT's young adult troupe, named for the building's generous owner) as well as the popular 10-10 Festival of new one-act plays. Since its inception, over 100 plays have been produced at the River Street, including dozens of original scripts.
With the support of CVLT's 80th Season Capital Campaign and the gracious bequeath of the remaining portion of the purchase by the late Mr. Shields, the theatre now owns the 56 River Street building and is planning improvements to further this legacy.