Middletown’s traveling theatre company and its cast of characters have found a home. For that, Nina Markle, executive director of the Performing Arts Academy, is thankful.
“Our prayers were answered,” Markle said after giving a tour of the 28,000-square-foot facility on Lewis Street.
Since 2008, the theatre company has called 10 locations home because larger venues were needed to accommodate the demand. They performed in church basements, the former Middletown Area Senior Citizens Center and, most recently, the Towne Mall. But when Planet Fitness announced plans to open a facility in the Middletown mall, P.A.A. sought another home.
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Markle said they considered renting “anything we could get for a dollar downtown. We were begging.”
She paused, fought back tears, then added: “Somebody heard our plea. And here we are.”
Markle was approached by a benefactor, whom she wanted to remain anonymous, about finding the theatre company a permanent location. Two years ago, Markle and her business partner Dawn Cooke opened P.A.A. in a strip mall that once housed First Financial Bank, a hardware store and other businesses.
Now the two women and their team of volunteers are investing in local youth by building one theatre set at a time.
Markle said P.A.A. gives about 10 productions a year, and each show typically is performed six times over two weekends to allow patrons an opportunity to fill the 180-seat theater. Most shows, she said, are sold out.
Every year, about 300 students from 13 communities in Butler, Warren and Montgomery counties are exposed to the arts in the theatre, she said.
P.A.A. instructors also give private voice, piano, drum, flute and guitar lessons in the academy’s 10 studios. There also are rooms designated for dance practice, rehearsals, costume storage, and set design and storage.
“We have what we need right now,” Markle said. “We are very, very happy.”
Eventually, the theatre seats from the renovated Middletown High School theatre will be moved to the P.A.A. to upgrade its seating.
The strip mall also includes another 27,000-square-feet of space that the academy hopes to rent to generate revenue, Markle said.
Markle, who taught music for 31 years in the public schools and one year at Miami University, said she expects cooperation from each student and a work ethic that demands their best efforts and abilities.
“She truly brings out the best and changes lives for some of these youth who come from all backgrounds,” said Peggy Davish, a P.A.A. board member. “They love her and she loves them.”
Markle, who recently lost her husband, called the youth performers “my life.”
She said every child is part of a team and the goal is for them to reach their potential.
“Many times, not all the kids, it’s about saving them from themselves,” she said. “We have drug children here. They are accepted and loved. When they get on that stage, they know nobody knows anything about them but their name. They bond in a way that is unbelievable. It’s a big family. We’re all for one and one for all. It’s a ministry. It truly is. There is not a church here, but God is here.”
Without the children there would be no performances at the faith based organization, she said.
“We could not do one thing,” she said. “These kids are wonderful.”