The First Presbyterian Church of Cleveland, known for almost two centuries as the Old Stone Church sits at 91 Public Square the corner of Rockwell and Ontario. Constructed from 1831 to 1833, Old Stone has a long, illustrious history, and a complicated relationship with the theater.
|There goes the neighborhood.|
Reverend Samuel C. Aiken gave a sermon in 1836 condemning the theater as houses of sin. In 1883 a theatre called The Park opened next door. Three months later a gas explosion destroyed that theater, and burned down the Old Stone Church along with it. The church was rebuilt, but so was the theatre, which was renamed The Lyceum, opening in 1895.
Around that time I had just turned thirty, and my friends and I were making theater in and around downtown under the name Bad Epitaph Theater Company. We presented contemporary version of Hamlet and Lysistrata, and in late 1999 staged the first Cleveland-area production The Santaland Diaries for our first "holiday play."
For any theater company, the holiday production is key. For some reason, people who never see theater the rest of the year will come out for a pageant of some kind, and every local company competes for Christmastime cash. Some theaters depend upon their Solstice cash-cow to pay for the rest of their programming. We found something which fit with what we felt at the time was our urbane, Gen-X point of view in David Sedaris's tribute to horrible part-time work.
I didn't see why, when we already had a corner on the hippest new holiday show available, that we had to present two Christmas shows, and besides, The Wayward Angel, the story of a near-fallen angel who tries to get right with the Lord by crashing the Messiah's birth, only to crash-land off the coast of Celtic Ireland and unintentionally plant the seeds of Christianity on the Emerald Isle ... well, it made me a little sick.
But the playwright's son was one of our artistic collaborators. And there was a great part for Nick. However, I insisted that if we were to present a Christmas pageant, then as Charlie Brown said, "We're going to do this play, and we're going to do it right." It would be free and open to the public, soliciting donations to cover the costs of production and anything left over we would donate to some worthy cause.
Since the days of Reverend Aiken the Old Stone Church has embraced the arts and has strong artistic programming. In the late 20th Century the director of the Faith & Arts Series was David Gooding, formerly of the Cleveland Play House and a connection to members of our artistic team. By mid-year we had already checked out the space and determined that while the 700-seat sanctuary would not be appropriate, the fellowship hall on the lower level would be ideal.
|Nick Koesters, Face-down on the floor. Again.|
"It's a wisely observed, elegiac little piece, leavened by Cullinan's unforced statement and wry humor." - James Damico, The Free TimesNick was singled out for his surprising quietness.
"It's a small story, and a brief drama. But it will also leave the viewer humbled and thankful in this busy season of rampant consumerism." - Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer
The room sat over one hundred, we were full most nights, and in the final days before Christmas, it was standing room only. The "official" admission policy was that everyone bring at least one non-perishable food item for the Old Stone Church Food Pantry, but we received in excess of 2,000 food items. People were also very generous with their cash, as we covered our costs and had $1,000 left over to provide to the Food Pantry.
It was all very sweet and sentimental, far from the arch and bitter amusements that had been my source of creativity since childhood. I could imagine a future in this emotional place, embracing family and hope, though circumstances made it necessary for me to wait a while longer.
Showtime in Cleveland (John Vacha)
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Old Stone Church website