By ELLEN KOLMAN



ekolman@lagpublications.com

As "Juliet" said in Shakespeare's timeless play, "What's in a name?"

Rabbit Run Theater located in a Madison Township barn, is named after - - well - - rabbits.

"The original farm grew broccoli and it attracted so many rabbits they actually beat down paths throughout the farm. Years after the broccoli farm was gone and the barn was converted into a theater, rabbits still roamed the property. So, the theater was dubbed Rabbit Run," says Karen Ziegler, publicist for Rabbit Run Community Arts Association.

A rustic 19th Century barn on the outside, Rabbit Run is a 300-seat theater with an orchestra pit and new light board and sound equipment. It's close proximity to Lake Erie adds to the charm and ambiance; lake breezes flow through the open barn doors, keeping Rabbit Run patrons comfortable sans air conditioning.

Ice houses from the original farm have been transformed into a green room and box office. Other amenities include restrooms, concession stand, gift shop and picnic area.

"We treasure our audiences and are constantly working on renovation and restoration to make sure our patrons are comfortable," says Brint Learned, executive director of the Rabbit Run Community Arts Association.

In 1946, a newly returned World War II veteran, Will Klump, along with his sister, Rooney, converted the family barn into a theater. Rabbit Run officially opened July 3, 1946.

"The theater was a big hit right away, it was packed out every week," Ziegler says. "In the 1940s and '50s summer stock barn theaters were very popular. There were about 300 of them across the country."

During that time, Madison reveled in it's peak as a summer resort town.

As the summer tourist population's thirst for shows increased, Rabbit Run miraculously kept up with the demand by completing a new show every week, nine shows in it's first sell-out season.

"It was a common occurrence for shows on their way to Broadway to test out their appeal at summer stock theaters," says Ziegler.

One such show, "The Fourposter," featuring the real-life married couple, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, was a huge hit at Rabbit Run in 1952, which led to it's successful run on Broadway.

Throughout the '50s and '60s, many well known actors and actresses graced the Rabbit Run theater stage, including a very young Dustin Hoffman, who performed during the 1962 season. Sandy Dennis and Charles Grodin also performed on the barn stage.

An unusual story involves a familiar face from "Gilligan's Island" fame, Cleveland native Jim Backus.

"In 1953, Jim Backus had suffered a broken leg and had become quite depressed just sitting around at home. At his agent's urging, he and his wife, Henny, came to perform at Rabbit Run. The show they performed in was "The Man Who Came to Dinner," and required the lead to have a broken leg which was just perfect for him," says Ziegler.

Sadly, in the late 1960s, Madison's demographics began to change and theater attendance fell. In 1967, Rabbit Run Theater closed it's doors.

"In 1979, a group formed called The Friends of Rabbit Run, and worked hard to restore and reopen the theater," says Ziegler.

Kathe Tascone and her late husband Frank, were among those couples who formed the group.

"I grew up in Ashtabula and heard about Rabbit Run, and when we moved to Madison, in 1970, I saw the barn desolate and empty and wondered how to get it open again. So, we got busy. Our group talked to the property owner and obtained a lease in 1979 and never stopped," Tascone says.

If Tascone's name sounds familiar, it is because she is also a veteran of Rabbit Run. Her first production was the "Prisoner of 2nd Avenue," during Rabbit Run's official reopening in 1980. More recently in 2005, Tascone played the title role in "Driving Miss Daisy."

"One of my favorites, 'Driving Miss Daisy,' was a very unique play that explored racism in a whole different way," she says. "I enjoy being on stage, and love the idea of the whole production coming together."

Kathe Tascone admirers will delight to know she will be appearing in "Fallen Angels" this August.

During the last 25 years, Rabbit Run has steadily gained momentum and never fails to produce high quality comedies, dramas, musicals and youth productions.

"This is a community theater, but within that realm we try to produce a professional quality as much as possible," says Learned who was hired as the first executive director of the Rabbit Run Community Arts Association in 2001. "People attend theater at Rabbit Run every summer for many reasons which include the quality of the productions, the exciting and challenging shows we choose and they love to see theater out in the barn."

Some of the productions that have appeared over the years include: "Crimes of the Heart" in 1985; "Damn Yankees" in 2002; "Meet Me in St. Louis" in 2003; the "Secret Garden" in 2004; "I Hate Hamlet" in 2005; and "Ragtime" in 2006.

None of this could be accomplished without the help of dedicated volunteers.

"We are heavily dependent on our volunteers to make every aspect of this organization run," Learned says.

While there is a summer staff that includes a technical director, a costume designer, house manager and box-office manager, all of these areas utilize volunteers to do a plethora of necessary jobs. From sound and lights, usher and concession, set painting and props, willing volunteers ensure successful productions.

"I walked on the grounds one summer and thought I have to be a part of this, so I volunteered to help with the costumes for "Honk" in 2004 and I haven't stopped since - - I love it," says Ziegler who is also the costume designer.

Yvonne Pilarczyk, director of "Having Our Say, The Delany Sisters First 100 Years," which closed in June, was thrilled to be a part of this extraordinary production.

"When you love the piece and have two great actresses like we do, it is very exciting," she says. "Being involved in theater makes your soul sing - - to be able to have this in my life is such a gift."

"There is a sense of community on the premises," Pilarczyk says. It is just charming out there with the beautiful courtyard, tables and candles, with the stars out above; and all the people talking like a small town."



IF YOU GO:

What: Swing! (Young adult production)

Where: Rabbit Run Theater, 5648 Chapel Road, Madison Township

When: July 5, 6, & 7 ( July 7, 3 p.m. matinee and evening show)

Curtain time: 8 p.m. for all shows unless otherwise noted

Tickets: Adults $12, Senior/Student $10

(Group rates available for 20 or more: musical production: $13, non-musical production: $11)

Reservations: Call 440-428-7092.

What: Little Women, The Broadway Musical

Where: Rabbit Run Theater, 5648 Chapel Road, Madison Township

When: July 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, & 29

Curtain time: 8 p.m. for all shows unless otherwise noted

Tickets: Adults $17, Senior/Student $14

(Group rates available for 20 or more: musical production: $13, non-musical production: $11)

Reservations: Call 440-428-7092.

What: Fallen Angels

Where: Rabbit Run Theater, 5648 Chapel Road, Madison Township

When: Aug. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, & 26

Curtain time: 8 p.m. for all shows unless otherwise noted

Tickets: Adults $14, Senior/Student $12

(Group rates available for 20 or more: musical production: $13, non-musical production: $11)

Reservations: Call 440-428-7092.

The Rabbit Run Community Arts Association, (RRCAA), which formed in the fall of 2000, was a merging of the Western Fine Arts Association and Rabbit Run.

RRCAA offers fine arts instruction in art, dance (ballet, jazz, modern), and drama as well as private and group music instruction for all ages. Suzuki violin, Kindermusik and homeschool band and art classes also offered.

Its office is located at 49 Park Street in Madison Village. Call for information at 440-428-7092. Find the RRCAA on the Web at rrcca@ncweb.com

Star Beacon Print Edition: 6/1/2007

Click here to order our 6/1/2007 Archive edition.

Trending Video

Recommended for you