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Ohio Arts Council Organizational Programs Coordinator Jim Szekacs looks at a backdrop created for the Huber Opera House's production of The Lion King, Jr.

It’s the Circle of Life: After 136 Years, Renovated Huber Opera House Looks to a Bright Future

Students participate in a workshop for The Fairy Tale Network. Photo courtesy of Huber Opera House.From hotel guests to bar patrons, many have passed through the doors of Hicksville’s Huber Opera House and Civic Center throughout its 136-year history.

“It was originally a hotel, and in 1885, the old opera house, which was a block down the street on the corner, burned down,” said Chris Feichter, director of operations for the opera house. “Then it was a vaudeville stage … and a movie theatre through the ‘70s. Then it was a bar and went into disrepair.”

Now, the renovated Huber has a new purpose: Serving as a training ground for aspiring theatre professionals.

Through an Ohio Arts Council (OAC) ArtsNEXT grant awarded for state fiscal year 2018, the Huber Opera House offered youth programming through its Huber Theater Academy project, which provided classes for students ages 6-10. Within a six-day span, they auditioned, rehearsed, created set pieces and props, and then performed The Fairy Tale Network, a fast-paced one-act show inspired by fairytale characters.

A hand-painted wildebeest created by Huber Theater Academy students for The Lion King, Jr. A second iteration of the Theater Production Academy for students ages 12-18 focused on the Huber's summer youth production, The Lion King, Jr., performed July 13-15. The Huber presented free workshops taught by community members focusing on a range of topics, including lights, sound, costume design, set construction, and staging.

Feichter said the experience was impactful for the students who participated because the schools they attend are often limited in the arts programming they can provide.

“We are really serving a huge local emptiness that is there,” she said. “They’ve had some opportunities within the schools to do arts-related things. However, it is a once-a-year thing, and the arts are more than that.”

Over the course of several months, the Huber’s workshops welcomed students from two states, five counties, and 12 school districts. For some participants, the theatre in Hicksville was the closest performing arts organization.

The first full cast meeting for The Lion King, Jr. Photo courtesy of Huber Opera House.“We had a single dad and his daughter who live 50 minutes away. He drove her in the morning at 9:30, picked her up at 2:30, and came back at 5:30,” said Production Director Julie Hall. “To me, that is just so selfless. And he said, ‘Anything for her. This is what she wants to do.’ And this is the closest theatre to them. 55 minutes away.”

Hall, who remembers watching her first movie in the theatre—it was Cinderella, she was 4—said the Huber has been a community staple for decades. Now, the theatre’s staff hopes to continue these traditions through new programming and outreach to a younger generation.

“It’s a whole new era with a new production company,” she said. “It’s their building. If we don’t teach them to take care of it now, they won’t take care of it in the future.”

From running the lights to sweeping the floors, the students have shown that they not only want to take care of the Huber, they want to see it thrive.

Take, for example, the response to the Theater Academy workshops, Feichter said.

Huber Theater Academy participants developed their own system for running the lights, sound, and props as part of several workshops.“When we started to offer these theatre workshops in January, people were calling me, saying, ‘Can we do this and this?’ and I said, ‘Yes, you can do more than one!’ They thought they had to sign up for just one. I said, ‘No, you can do all six weeks, eight workshops! You can do all of them!’” she said. “We put the call out for the show and got 80 kids to show up for auditions.”

Sixty-three students made up the show’s cast. Meanwhile, workshop participants worked diligently behind the scenes to paint the musical’s sunset backdrop, sew shells onto the lioness’ costumes, and create props and lighting effects to turn the Huber stage into the African savannah.

Having the opportunity to become involved both on and off the stage has shaped some of the students’ personal goals as well.

“We will have our third student as of next year going into theatre in college, and we’ve only been doing the program for three years,” Hall said. “I talked to the cast last night, and I said, ‘You know, we’ve never once treated you like you were kids. You came in here wanting to be professionals, and we treated you like that.’ And I think that’s the big difference here. It’s that they think that they’re professionals. They come in and think, ‘I’m an actor.’ How many kids can really say that?”

Based on the success so far, hopefully many more. Feichter said there are already plans in place to expand the program.

The Huber Theater Academy students created many of the costumes for Huber Opera House's production of The Lion King, Jr.“We have just grown so much over the past year, and the ArtsNEXT grant has put us over the top,” she said. “We anticipate doing three shows next year instead of two.”

But first, Feichter added, they really just want to celebrate with the community on opening night. When asked what they were most excited for Lion King audiences to see, the two friends of 15 years looked at each other and smiled.

“‘Nants ingonyama,’” Hall said, belting out the opening words of “Circle of Life.” “And then that curtain opens and the sun is rising and the giraffe is walking across the stage. It is just overwhelming—it takes your breath away. It’s just one of those special moments.”

For more information about the Huber Opera House and its upcoming season and programs, visit huberoperahouse.org.

For more information about ArtsNEXT and other OAC grant programs, visit oac.ohio.gov/grants.

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist



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