West Side News

Carriage Place theater troupe a 'touring company'

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When one curtain closes, another opens.

During the economic downturn five years ago, the Columbus city budget underwent drastic cuts.

They included the Recreation and Parks Department children's theater at the Davis Performing Arts Program, which for years had been the baby of John Heisel, a recreational program assistant.

Heisel found himself transferred to Carriage Place Community Center on the Northwest Side.

"No theater," Heisel said. "No stage."

No problem.

Convinced there is a need for theater in parks and recreation programming, not only for children, but also for people of all ages, Heisel set about creating a program from scratch at his new site.

"When you're in a situation like that, you get very innovative," recalled Heisel, who has been with the department since September 1988.

"One nice thing is I had a lot of nice people I had taught as younger students at the Davis program kind of follow where I was going," he said.

"They came to assist the building of the program and also brought their children and families to be involved."

Heisel was also able to form partnerships with other nearby recreation systems, including Dublin and Grandview Heights; the latter is the "crown jewel" among them, he said.

"It's sort of like Stone Soup; if you don't have it, maybe other people do," Heisel said.

"It's been a lot of volunteerism. We've created our own projects.

"We've gotten the creative talents of the people in the community to write original productions and to do adaptations of other works," Heisel said.

Carriage Place Theatre, also sometimes called Carriage Place Children's Theatre, Carriage Place Players and even the Grandview Heights Carriage Place Players, last weekend put on three performances at the Shedd Theatre on Franklin Avenue of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Drive. It was a modern twist on the Washington Irving tale crafted by 10-year-old Dublin resident Treya Moore, a fifth-grader at Riverside Elementary School, to include an anti-bullying message.

In November, Carriage Place Children's Theatre will be involved in a project with the Ohio Historical Society Museum to put on a holiday show that's part of the ongoing 1950s exhibition, according to Heisel.

Then, during the first week in December, the theatrical troupe's own holiday show will be staged. The That's So Retro Christmas Special is a takeoff on Frank Capra's classic holiday movie It's a Wonderful Life.

In it, according to the director, a group of children are sucked up into a television network, and learn the true meaning of Christmas by experiencing classic holiday sitcom episodes and specials.

Then in March, Heisel plans to direct an adult cast in the 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning play You Can't Take It With You, and that same month, he's hoping to obtain the rights to a stage version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for a children's production.

"I'm a glutton for punishment," Heisel said.

He's also the leader of what he called a "touring company," one that will perform in whatever venue can be found, since Carriage Place Community Center doesn't have a stage.

Past productions, which have included versions of Pride and Prejudice and The Three Musketeers, have taken place at the Columbus Performing Arts Center's Shedd Theatre, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Grandview Heights High School.

The latter is the result of a partnership formed in 2011 between Carriage Place Theatre and Grandview Heights Parks and Recreation.

The cast members for Carriage Place Theatre productions come from Dublin, Hilliard, Clintonville and Grandview Heights, as well as from surrounding schools on the Northwest Side, Heisel said.

"We're building a nice core of people," he said.

"We try to work it in between basketball tournaments and soccer tournaments and things like that."

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