New Lyceum Circuit is and is not a throwback - planned May 22 showcase postponed
The Beat had done a story on the New Lyceum Circuit to advance a planned artist showcase next Tuesday, May 22, at the Southern Theatre. That event has since been postponed, but the NLC itself is something we found interesting. So here we share with you the non-showcase specific portion of our story.
In the years following the Civil War, entertainers of all sorts would travel from one town to another for shows on what became called the "Lyceum circuit," named for the style of architecture favored in the construction of these buildings.
Professor, author and technical theater professional Michael Hurwitz is co-founder of the "New Lyceum Circuit," which partners many of these newly-restored opera houses with independent artists and entertainers.
Hurwitz told The Beat that, in the past decade or so, there has been an effort within many Ohio towns to restore their opera houses.
As author of a book about these structures (Ohio's Historic Opera Houses) as well as documentary films about their restoration and principal of a consulting firm working with municipalities and agencies on the restorations, Hurwitz saw a need then to "find them some entertainment."
Thus was the New Lyceum Circuit born. The circuit itself is overseen by Heritage Ohio and the Ohio Arts Council, with Hurwitz and his partner in the New Lyceum effort Michael Morris as volunteers performing "a labor of love," according to Hurwitz.
"We want to achieve sustainability for these theaters and artists," Hurwitz explained.
"We want something that will serve these communities and bring entertainment back to 'Main Street America' and to get people in these spaces and seeing these artists."
The New Lyceum Circuit's roster includes musicians of varying styles and genres, magicians, one-person shows and more.
The intent, Hurwitz said, is to celebrate the history and significance of the facilities but not to be a historical re-enactment.
Artists are paid professional performers, and remaining money from ticket sales goes back into the facilities, Hurwitz said.
Artists also benefit from networking opportunities not just within the circuit, something that Cleveland-area jazz singer and pianist Harry Bacharach said is working.
Venue partners in the circuit recommend artists, but often audience members will approach to book off-circuit, perhaps for a local festival or other functions.
"It's an amazing experience," Bacharach said.
"It can be a tough row to hoe, and travel is expensive. This helps put me in places outside of my immediate area, in towns I don't know.
"And the sound in these facilities is incredible, because they were built for it."
What the opera houses rarely, if ever, hosted, according Hurwitz said, was an opera.
The title "opera house" was used mostly to give added gravitas to the building, he said.
Hurwitz said he hopes the gravitas is unnecessary, to be replaced by a reputation for high-quality entertainment – "the best entertainment you've never heard of."
Hurwitz noted a number of towns with restored opera houses, including Johnstown in central Ohio, as well as Pemberville, McConnelsville, Cedarville and Fayette.