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For first class plays, concerts and events, one need not look any further than the historic Struthers Library Theatre located in downtown Warren, PA at 302 W. 3rd Ave.
The theatre opened in 1883 after Thomas Struthers erected the building to be used as a community library, public hall and rental spaces. The rent collected on the space would be used to benefit the library association. However, it gained notoriety as an opera house when it opened.
“It opened as an opera house. Operettas – different from traditional operas, usually shorter, with a light or comic theme and a bit of spoken dialogue – were the most popular form of entertainment at that time,” said Marcy O’Brien, executive director for the Struthers Library Theatre. “Today, it’s an opera house library.”
O’Brien said that the operettas gave way to Vaudeville in the 1900s. The theatre was remodeled in 1919 when the current stage and seating configuration was installed, but in the middle part of the last century, the Struthers Library Theatre started changing, and not for the better.
“It declined into a movie house in the middle of the 20th Century,” said O’Brien. “By 1980, eight or nine people were showing up to the movies. The interior of the theatre was covered up by sound and acoustic tiles.”
As the theatre’s centennial year approached in 1983, O’Brien said that a committee came together to discuss its fate.
“They were asking, ‘Do we lock it up? Do we tear it down? What are we going to do?’” recalled O’Brien. “The committee said that they wanted to save the building. They set a goal of raising $300,000 to save it. They raised $400,000 in six weeks.”
The Struthers Library Theatre reopened with a gala in the summer of 1983 with a summer theatre series which featured equity actors from New York City. However, while the series was popular, it was becoming expensive to maintain in the early 1990s.
“It’s very costly to have equity actors, directors and crew,” O’Brien said. “It started to lose money. It had its heyday. It was a really nice decade.”
O’Brien came aboard as executive director during the 2010 – 11 season. A friend of hers was serving as executive director to “stop the bloodletting” of the financially struggling theatre and wanted out. She was then asked if she wanted to take the position.
“I was past retirement age, and all of my experience in theatre until then was in the audience,” O’Brien said. “However, I asked the trustees to roll the dice with me for one year.”
That first year, O’Brien and the theatre staff were able to bring in three top tier acts with Vicki Lawrence, Cirque Le Masque, and the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra. She said that all the performances with Lawrence and Cirque Le Masque sold out.
The Celebrity Series has grown since its inception to seven different performances per year. The Warren Players, the Warren Concert Association and Yankee Bush Productions are among other groups who regularly perform at the Struthers Library Theatre.
Visit strutherslibrarytheatre.com for more information.