In a series of articles here, we have traced the history of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) building, from a simple children’s shelter in 1874, to a village-styled orphanage in the 1920’s and then a community hub by 1972. These stories, and the upcoming production of Light in Odd Spaces are being done in honor of a facility that has contributed so much to the city. We at MCT have a particular respect for the building, for it has been our home for 40 years. What follows is brief description of our relationship with the Odd Fellows stage.
Meadville Community Theatre was founded in 1967 without an actual theater. Although there was great interest in holding local productions, the city’s present main venue, the Academy Theatre, was in disrepair. Lead by Bonnie Cook, MCT held its first production (Dark at the Top of the Stairs) on November 17, 1967 at Meadville High School (MASH). For sixteen years thereafter, our theater conducted performances in a variety of venues, including MASH, Allegheny College, the Elks and ICC Clubs. Dinner shows were also offered at the local Clubs and the David Mead and Holiday Inns. A few seasons had four shows, but most consisted of three.
As described before, the IOOF building became repurposed beginning in 1972. Its 150-seat auditorium, which was the chapel in the children’s home, became available in 1983 and MCT seized this opportunity. Our first show was The Ransom of Red Chief in a season that also held Little Mary Sunshine and Strange Bedfellows. Although an ideal intimate setting, the seemingly small stage still accommodated the casts MCT was accustomed to with prior venues. Even though the stage was smaller than other venues in which MCT had performed, it has proven to work well for a wide variety of shows, from intimate plays to ones with large casts and musicians.
With the stability of a definite home, MCT seasons grew to six by 1990. Highlights included a 20th Anniversary event in 1987 and a special original production of Hello Meadville to commemorate the city’s bicentennial in 1988. The first Odd Fellows children’s show was Exit The Body in 1991. It is estimated that there have been 220 distinct productions involving at least 2,000 actors and musicians since the 1983 opening.
MCT has also made the Odd Fellows building our “home” by installing commemorative seats in the auditorium and recognition plaques in the lobby. The space has likely been most customized by the green room graffiti, which provides hundreds of messages from the many cast members over 40 years of productions.
Hopefully the articles here have well evidenced why MCT felt the need to honor the Odd Fellows building, our home for 40 years. If our theater walls could speak, they would provide countless stories of sweat, tears, laughter and love. Our upcoming production of Light in Odd Spaces will tell some of these tales, from the theater and beyond, and we hope you will come to help us remember.