The arts are flourishing in Dayton thanks in no small part to the Victoria Theatre Association
By Kevin Michell
Just a stone’s throw away from downtown Dayton’s riverfront stands a cultural institution that is still going strong after over 150 years.
Through the years, the Victoria Theatre Association has grown well beyond the building on First and Main that gives it its name. In 2003, the association celebrated the opening of the Schuster Center at the old Rike’s Department Store location at Second and Main. Just last year the PNC Arts Annex opened, adding yet another venue for theater, artistic performances, education and other cultural events.
This is just a sliver of the Victoria Theatre Association’s work in building Dayton’s artistic scene for audiences and performers alike. The efforts to add new venues and maintain existing ones are at the heart of the association’s mission, says Victoria Theatre Association President and CEO Ty Sutton.
“We want to provide tremendous spaces for artists to create,” Sutton says. “We want to be the go-to organization for arts and entertainment programming and that means really diversifying our programming.”
That has led to a concerted effort to provide a wide array of shows and events at Dayton’s arts centers. April’s conference and festival for the International Association of Blacks in Dance sent a buzz through the city with its vibrant performances, workshops and related programming. The Victoria Theatre and the Schuster Center will be hosting evenings in June with actor Rob Lowe and comedian Maria Bamford as well as putting on Broadway musical Waitress.
But of equal focus to the Victoria Theatre Association is its growing education and engagement programming.
“Our education offerings are growing and we are delving into a variety of programs for all ages that are participatory and engaging,” says Sutton, adding that the association has just scratched the surface of what it hopes to do.
This summer, the PNC Arts Annex will host four summer camps for young people interested in the performing arts. June holds the Broadway Preview Summer Camp—where students in grades six through 12 will learn songs and choreography from next season’s touring Broadway shows—and one specific to the show Waitress—which will be performed concurrently at the Schuster Center—for students in grades nine through 12.
The Waitress Summer Camp, which will run 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from June 24 through 28, is a special opportunity while the touring company is in town.
“They will work with cast members in the show,” says Gary Minyard, vice president of education and engagement for the Victoria Theatre Association, “they’ll go see the show and then on Friday, the last day of camp, they’ll do an informance—an informal performance—that’ll be for all their friends and family.”
A brand-new summer camp program takes place in July. Students in grades five through 12 can participate in the Disney’s Frozen Jr. Summer Camp, which will feature two simultaneous two-week camps July 8- 19, one for performance and production and the other for the technical aspects of costuming, sound and lighting.
The camps will finish with a series of four performances of the musical at the PNC Arts Annex, with the technical camp students running the show and the performance students doing their thing on stage.
This new theater education offering has the entire association excited about participating and instilling the joy of performance in Dayton’s youth.
“We’re all about adventure and trying new things and doing the best we can,” says Minyard, who was artistic director of the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre before joining the Victoria Theatre Association. Minyard will direct the show with Victoria Theatre Association Director of Education and Engagement Leah Thomas handling music responsibilities.
The association has also added summertime half-day camps for younger children between 7 and 11 years old and is doubling the number of six-week classes they hold in the autumn while continuing to develop opportunities for people of all ages who are interested in the arts and theater.
“I feel like our role in the community is to provide opportunities and entry points at all ages,” Minyard says. “We try to make it affordable, we try to make it accessible. Making sure that people feel welcome, that they feel invited into our spaces. That’s really important to me.”
Summer at the Victoria Theatre Association promises some great cinema events as well. The association is bringing back its Cool Films series once again, which will run from July to early September.
The series, which has been running for over 20 years, kicks off with cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite on July 12 at the Schuster Center. The film screening will be followed by a panel discussion with stars Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Jon Gries.
July will also feature a four-film Alfred Hitchcock marathon on the 14th and a weekend featuring two Robert Redford films—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was released 50 years ago, and All the President’s Men—on July 19 and 20, both at the Victoria Theatre. Cool Films events there will also feature a performance from the house Wurlitzer organ before screenings.
“We’re keeping the tradition of seeing a film in this kind of a theater with a balcony and boxes on the side,” says Sue Stevens, the association’s vice president of marketing and communications. “And yet at the same time we’re also reaching out to new audiences.”
The 2019 Cool Films series wraps up with a special night on Sept. 8. The Princess Bride will be screened before an evening with Westley himself, Cary Elwes, reminiscing on the film’s classic scenes and behind-the-scenes stories. The finale will be held at the Schuster Center.
All in all, the association’s initiatives seem to promise a bright future for the arts in Dayton and the city on the whole.
“We try to have an impact on quality of life,” says Sutton. “We want downtown Dayton—and our venues—to be known as the destination for both arts and entertainment programming.”