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A photo of the temporary facade of the Avalon Theatre in uptown Marysville

Resilient Ohio: After Roof Collapse, Marysville’s Avalon Theatre Rises Toward Summer Reopening

A rendering of Marysville’s Avalon Theatre. The theatre is undergoing restoration work after sitting vacant for 10 years and suffering a partial collapse during construction work in June 2020. Photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.Arthurian lore speaks of Avalon, a legendary island serving as the final resting place for heroes who earned peaceful deaths in idyllic sanctuary after spending their lives completing dangerous quests.

A different Avalon—the Avalon Theatre that will open its doors on Main Street in uptown Marysville this summer—is also meant to be a paradise of sorts, one dedicated to the performing arts in Union County. And, like the legends of old, the journey this historic theatre has undergone throughout the past 12 months is its own epic tale of trials and triumphs.

“If we start back on March 6, 2020, we had just finished our first-ever strategic plan for the theatre. We were all on this high, we had great goals set for 2020, construction was to start, and we were on our way,” said the Avalon Theatre’s Executive Director, Sarah Barr. “And then … one week later, everything shut down (because of the coronavirus). Fast forward to June, and our building collapsed.” 

The Avalon had been in the midst of renovations for about three months when a deteriorating supporting truss at the procedium gave way in the back of the building and crumbled. Photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.The Avalon had been in the midst of renovations for about three months when a deteriorating supporting truss at the proscenium gave way in the back of the building and crumbled, sending bricks tumbling into an alley and leaving beams hanging broken and exposed.

Barr immediately took to the theatre’s Facebook page to provide an update in a live video, filmed while hard-hat-clad workers assessed the damage behind her. The collapse was devastating for the Avalon staff and board, who were already trying to navigate a multi-million-dollar capital fundraising campaign during a pandemic.

“All of that excitement we had at the beginning of spring was replaced with a sense of devastation and just this feeling of, ‘Oh God, what’s next?’” Barr said.

The Avalon Theatre, located at 121 S. Main Street, is a community icon that celebrated its original grand opening in August 1936. Photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.The Avalon Theatre, located at 121 S. Main Street, is a community icon that celebrated its original grand opening in August 1936. A 500-seat theatre outfitted with art-deco-style flourishes and air conditioning, the Avalon welcomed audiences to live shows and film screenings until 1972, when it was transformed into a movie triplex. The theatre—then known as the Marysville Cinema—would remain a space ruled by the silver screen until December 2009, when it closed for what many thought was forever.

After sitting vacant for 10 years, falling into a state of disrepair, the Avalon became the focus of a renovation project led by the nonprofit organization Marysville Uptown Theatre. The group has been working to “bring the Avalon back to its original roots and provide the community with a facility to experience quality cultural, arts, and educational programs,” according to the Avalon’s website.

In classic myths and legends, heroes must endure “the dark night of the soul,” or the part of the story where all seems lost and through which they must fight their way out through strength and perseverance.

Workers rebuild the Avalon Theatre’s wall following a partial building collapse in June 2020. Photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.Once the dust from the collapse had settled, that’s exactly what the team behind the Avalon Theatre did. The damage necessitated a reconsideration of building design plans, which allowed for some upgrades that Barr said will ultimately better prepare the theatre for a bright future in Marysville.

“We were able to look at the theatre and say, ‘How can we make this better for the community and for the artists who are going to take the stage?’” she said. “Because we were able to overcome and look beyond the devastation, we were able to say, ‘Let’s add dressing rooms.’ We wouldn’t have had those before. Or ‘Let’s put in infrared filtration in our HVAC systems so that people can stay safe in our environment when they’re allowed to re-enter.’”

Approaches to fundraising changed, too. After all, Barr acknowledged, there’s an extra layer of personal vulnerability that’s added when giving a presentation from one’s living room. We no longer could have face-to-face engagement. Instead, we were connecting in each other's personal spaces.  We are doing these big asks, and my house plants are hanging above my head, my dog is in my window barking at our neighbors ... it made it a lot more of a 'real' connection, and I valued that connection. I feel others did, too.”

The ability to embrace positivity amid unexpected setbacks speaks to the strength of those working to see the Avalon’s red-and-black façade illuminated in uptown once more, said Karen Eylon, director of the Marysville and Union County Convention and Visitors Bureau.Construction photos from the Avalon Theatre worksite in uptown Marysville. Photos courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.

“There is an energy, an absolute, resolute sense of place and love and pride for what is here in Union County,” she said. “And to be able to have the beautiful theatre that was once here as a phoenix rising up from the dust of the collapse … this continues to stoke the fire of the passion we have for where we live and where we work.”

Now, as the restored theatre looks ahead to its grand opening, slated for August 2021—the month of its 85th birthday—the community is ready to usher in a new era of enjoying the arts together.

It’s a concept that seems even more precious given the past year of distancing, isolation, and performances viewed on a screen rather than on a stage.

“This theatre opening in August, at this point in time, is critical to the well-being of Union County residents and generations to come. If nothing else, it’s memory-making,” said Eylon. “You don’t exactly make memories by sitting in front of Netflix all day. We’re ready for this as a culture, and we need this as a culture.”

The Avalon Theatre is preparing for an August 2021 grand opening. The month will mark the theatre’s 85th birthday. Photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre.For Barr, the vision of what the Avalon Theatre will become has been the driving force behind the project’s resilience.

“When we broke ground back in March, we felt as if this could be the hope at the end of the pandemic,” she said. “Looking back at the past year, yes, many horrible things happened, but they were not the end of us. I think that as long as you believe in the good that you are doing, and you believe in the community and have the right people surrounding you, the sky’s the limit.”

To learn more about Marysville’s Avalon Theatre, visit theavalontheatre.org.

Resilient Ohio is an ongoing series highlighting the innovative solutions developed by Ohio arts organizations as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has created incredible financial obstacles for the arts across the country. According to Americans for the Arts, the negative economic impact of the coronavirus on the arts and cultural sector totals $15.2 billion across the nation—and counting. If you have a story to share about creative perseverance within Ohio’s arts community, please email it to communications@oac.ohio.gov.
 

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
Featured photo courtesy of the Avalon Theatre



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