The Akron Woman’s City Club was formed in 1923 through the interest of the late Miss Helen Wolfe and was housed in the former Mason residence at 115 South Union Street. By 1926 its vigor and expected longevity warranted a move to larger quarters in the downtown Pythian Temple located at 34 South High Street.
In November 1928 a group known simply as the Little Theatre Players was formed. It was the first Little Theatre of its kind in Akron, Ohio. The first play presented by the Little Theatre Players was “The Texas Nightingale” by Zoe Atkins and it played to a standing room only audience on March 12,1929. Performances were primarily at club functions, local service groups, hospitals and the Children’s Home. From the beginning, modest card parties and in-home teas augmented box office ticket sales and playbill advertising. However, budget restrictions so inherent to little theatre presented only a minor obstacle since husbands, brothers, and sons wielded carpenter tools and wives, daughters and aspiring thespians handled the paint and scrub brushes.
As its first paid director on October 31, 1931 until her death in 1969, Florence “Billie” Lahrmer nurtured and protected our little theatre with intense devotion. Even today her presence is felt. An oil portrait of her by Jack Richard has a prominent place in the lobby and no performance goes on without it.
An August 13, 1932 edition of The Literary Digest listed the Little Theatre Players as one of Eighteen Little Theatres in America. The Literary Digest was an influential, general interest magazine published by Frank and Wagnalls. The first issue was in 1890 and in 1938 it merged into Time Magazine. During the late 1920s film and radio took the entertainment worlds by storm and commercial touring companies (known as “the road”) declined. Subsequently Little Theatres became the hope and salvation of live drama as they blossomed in communities across the Untied States.
Before very long the popularity of the Little Theatre Players required Miss Helen Wolfe to recommend that a Theatre Board be formed. The board of directors consisted of eighteen members of the Akron Woman’s City Club.
In 1946 The Akron Woman’s City Club moved to grey Lodge on West Exchange Street. To accommodate the rapidly developing theatre, land harboring an abandoned carriage house at the rear of the Grey Lodge property was purchased. In 1946 the Coach House Theatre was born and the identifying horse and buggy logo soon appeared.
By 1954 a new seating plan for the Coach House Theatre had to be arranged. Seating capacity is now 93. Dressing rooms and the traditional Green Room followed in short order. The best available lighting and sound panels of the time were added to the technical equipment. As recently as 1990-91 the accumulation of many years of frugal planning was spent and almost $30,000 used for exterior renovation and interior improvement. Raising the proscenium and extending the stage permitted a broader choice of plays and more ambitious productions.
At one time the Coach House Theatre was not eligible for tax-deductible gifts or grants; consequently, fundraisers were undertaken. In 1959 a Lake Erie cruise was sponsored; 238 people responded. Yellowed, updated newspaper clippings of the 1960s or 70s speak of the “Seventh New York Theatre Trip”. This cultural moneymaking excursion known as “Theatour” continues today. In 1977 the practice of Opening Night patron Dinners in the elegant Akron Woman’s City Club Ball Room was begun. This popular event continues today. In August of 2006 the Akron Woman’s City Club Coach House Theatre was granted 501 C3 status and is now eligible for tax-deductible gifts and grants.
The long established practice of presenting plays each session from September to June culminates in July with the Royal Coach Awards when engraved plaques carrying the theatre emblem are presented to Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, Best Featured Actor and Actress, Best Costumes, Best Sets and Best Production as determined by ballot.
The Coach House Theatre of the Akron Woman’s City Club continues to appeal to local performers, musicians and technicians. Actors and audiences are drawn from all sections of the community. They respond to its historical milieu and intimacy and are comfortable in its quiet professionalism. 2008-2009 is the 81st season of live theatre at Coach House.
All theatergoers are welcome and urged to come and enjoy productions that have been critically acclaimed by news media.