Monday, September 11, 2006

The Original Omaha Community Playhouse

302-316 No. 40th Street

Omaha Community Playhouse
Building permit: 1928
Building material: Brick and metal lath and stucco
Building cost: $10,000
Architects: John and Alan McDonald

Founded in 1924 by Alan McDonald, the Community Playhouse spent its first two years hosting productions in a variety of locations, including its first show a Technical High School Auditorium in March 1925. One month later the new Community Playhouse presented “The Enchanted Cottage” on the stage at Mary Cooper Dance Studio at 40th and Farnam. In 1928, the playhouse lost one of its venues when the Cooper Dance Studio was converted into a chicken diner house. Under the guidance of Mrs. Genevieve and Alan McDonald, design drawings for a new playhouse had already been drafted by Alan and his father, architect John McDonald. While raising money for a permanent performing arts building, Mrs. Guiou made arrangements with Mrs. Joslyn to build a temporary structure on land referred to as Sarah’s “cow pasture.” Constructed in October 1928, the simply designed playhouse was built in 28 days. Opening night was October 30, with the audience standing outside while the last of the seats were bolted down and debris swept away for the performance of “Aren’t We All”.

Space was, to say the least, limited at the playhouse, with only a single exit off the stage. When an actor had to re-enter a scene on the other side of the stage, quite a commotion was created by the neighborhood dogs as the actor left the building and ran around the back to enter again at the other side of the building. Storage for costumes and props was provided across the street in the Joslyn’s carriage house. A leaky roof in the carriage house would soak the costumes, making it necessary to lay them out to dry all along Sara’s yard.

With public support from the Omaha community, the funds were finally secured and the new Omaha Community Playhouse was built at 69th & Cass Streets. The old playhouse was torn down a few years later. More information can be found on the Playhouse’s Website.

Boggers Notes; The original Omaha Community Playhouse at 40th and Davenport Street is now the site of the Cathedral Apartments.