The Akron Woman's City Club has announced the appointment of Akron native JT Buck as Artistic Director of Coach House Theatre. Buck will produce Coach House's five-production mainstage "90th Birthday" season and work with AWCC to host a year-long conversation with stakeholders about the theatre program's future.
The Akron Woman's City Club has operated Coach House as an outreach to the community and benefit to its members since 1928. Yet three weeks ago, after the departure of its previous Artistic Director Nancy Cates, Coach House appeared to be facing its final curtain.
"We're grateful for Nancy's remarkable devotion and hard work over the last 9 years. She, along with her husband Terry, daughter Tess and family, have produced excellent shows, grown the audience and gathered a terrific family of volunteers. We wish them the best going forward," Said Betty Spencer, current AWCC Board President, whose term ends next month.
"Coach House is Akron's 'vintage' theatre. It deserves a ninetieth season," says Buck. "Honoring those nine decades of live, local theatre-making is my top priority right out of the gate. The board, club management and I are working swiftly and harmoniously to create a plan that keeps the lights on and doors open for the coming year."
The 90th Season At this point in the calendar, most theatres have announced their seasons and are actively selling subscriptions. With this late start, Buck's first task was to select and organize a winning season of shows.
That season has been approved by the AWCC board and rIghts are currently being finalized.
Here's a sneak preview:
The 90th season will open in with elegance and suspense with a sumptuous dinner in the ballroom of the Akron Woman's City Club which features a live, "radio style" performance of an Agatha Christie mystery. "There's no better way for the Akron Woman's City Club to celebrate Coach House's 90th than by pulling out 'all the stops' with the ballroom, food from our terrific kitchen and a great story by Dame Agatha!"
The second (and first full-scale) show of the season is "Christmas In Akron", a brand-new musical by Akron native and LA screenwriter Rob Loos. "Christmas in Akron" is a lighthearted, screwball musical comedy set in Akron's famous O'Neil's department store in the 1970's. "As a writer with a fondness for Akron history who recently had my work produced locally, it's a special thrill to now produce the Akron debut another new musical about Akron by a fellow Akron-born writer. This piece takes our audience back to their fondest childhood memories" Buck says. "This show is a charmer, and a great addition to Akron's holiday tradition." The author, whose family has deep roots in town and includes past members of the AWCC, will offer production support from his home in Hollywood and will travel to Akron take part in the gala opening.
The full remaining season will be revealed at a 'launch party' planned for July 1st, at which time season subscriptions will also go on sale.
Beyond the 90th Season
The Akron Woman's City Club has made a commitment to keeping the the theatre open for its 90th season, but will there be a 91st season? Buck's second big task is to help find an answer to that question.
"Our volunteers and loyal patrons come first. Their voices matter most going forward." To that end, Buck will host a series of creative conversations during the coming year, beginning with an invitation to huddle with Coach House volunteers in late June.
"We're asking everyone who loves this historic theatre to come to the table with an open mind...and some rolled-up sleeves. AWCC will have a new board president and some shifting board positions this summer. The new board needs authentic engagement with the community to make great decisions."
Future conversations will focus on revising the theatre's governance and finance strategies with an emphasis on efficiency and transparency, reviewing the way Coach House complements AWCC's other programming and an increased participation in Akron's wider Arts & Culture sector.
"Coach House has fantastic audiences. But growth will require restablishing some trust in the wake of the recent upheaval and then opening some new doors and windows."
"Coach House is different than other stand-alone theatres in the area. It's really a program of a larger organization. The theatre was originally designed to play a role within the mission of the Akron Woman's City Club. Some might view this as a limitation, but a lot of interesting things become possible for artists, crews and audience when we begin to embrace and dance with that reality. Our artists, volunteers and community hold the keys. If we lean into the challenge with heart and steadiness, and really listen to our stakeholders, the mission will renew itself and the show will go on and on."
About JT Buck
JT recently wrote the book, music and lyrics for "The Devil's Milk pt. 2: Goosetown", a part of the acclaimed Devil's Milk Trilogy produced by Akron's New World Performance Lab. His previous musical, "The Gospel According to Tammy Faye", was produced at the University of Akron in 2011 and has been performed in New York, Cincinnati, Houston and Portland. He's directed, music directed, and/or performed in countless productions over the last 25 years. He holds a BA in Theatre with a minor in music from the University of Akron, was a member of the inaugural year of the Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston where he was mentored by Pulitzer-winning playwright Lanford Wilson and Tony winning producer Stuart Ostrow. He previously served as director of Arts for First Grace UCC, serves as music director at New Vision UCC in Canton and as Director of Practice and Education for the Akron-Canton Shambhala Center. He was a co-organizer of the 2015 Mayoral Forum on Arts & Culture. Buck is currently writing his thesis for a MA an Arts Administration at the University of Akron. Buck also maintains a private teaching studio offering a mindfulness-based approach to performance for musicians, actors and public speakers.