Auburn Public Theater: Empty Place Turned Theater Space
Nine years ago, Angela Daddabbo noticed a For Sale and a For Rent sign across the street from Daddabbo’s Pizza place in downtown Auburn. She spent some time trying to come up with ideas to fill the darkened storefront window with photos or posters to make it a little less depressing for her lunching customers’ view. It finally came to her: “build a theater in the building across the street.” Now, the Auburn Public Theater has seen more than 100,000 patrons throughout their year-round programming.
“Auburn Public Theater is, first and foremost, public. We strive to represent as many points of view as we possibly can in the programming and in terms of whom we hope to attract to our programming,” said Daddabbo, now Artistic Director for the Auburn Public Theater. The theater explains on their website that they have hoped to become a hub for theater, art, music, education and creative expression. They also hope to “bring new life to downtown Auburn.” But, becoming a hub meant offering the community more than just the typical theater experience.
Auburn Public Theater hosts multiple stage events, from comedians to choirs to the “Calamari Sisters,” including but not limited to your typical musical theater experience. Beyond the stage, Auburn Public Theater has developed a cinema series in their 65-seat art house cinema. With hope to increase film literacy and cinema appreciation in the community, the theater screens independent, documentary, foreign, classic and family films.
Although the theater is based in downtown Auburn, its impact has rippled out beyond the Fingerlakes. “We have received overwhelming support from the community from day one right up until today,” said Daddabbo. “Money, time, volunteer hours, talent, you name it; people have come in to Auburn Public Theater in droves over the years to lay their gifts here.”
Theater has been a part of Auburn’s history since 1958, when the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse was founded. In 1970, the playhouse found its home in Auburn’s Emerson Park, at the end of Owasco Lake, inside of an empty building that once held the park’s merry-go-round. Ever since, Merry-Go-Round Playhouse has been bringing Broadway to the Fingerlakes, with past shows including “Legally Blonde,” “Mary Poppins,” “Cats” and many other recognizable titles.
In 2012, Merry-Go-Round produced the first ever Musical Theatre Festival, which involved all of Auburn’s theaters. While Merry-Go-Round offered both contemporary and classic shows, Auburn Public Theater brought the funny, edgier off-broadway productions, which has become Auburn Public Theater’s reputation as being the home to edgier, fun productions.
Beyond the stage and screen, the theater has developed Auburn Public Studio, a space where classes are offered to kids and adults. Studio classes range from dance to improv. “We just want everyone to feel like they can come and learn or hone a skill and have fun in a creative, safe, inclusive environment,” said Meghan Clary, the Marketing Coordinator for the public theater. Offering classes to the community is the public theater’s differentiator.
Auburn Public Theater is not just developing artists, they’re also supporting artists. The theater helps facilitate a grant process with the New York State Council on the Arts. Artists and arts nonprofits in Wayne, Yates, Seneca, Ontario and Cayuga counties can find monetary support with the Finger Lakes Community Arts Grants. Auburn Public Theater helps grant $74,000 a year. Clary said, “We want to enrich the cultural and social fabric of the area by funding arts programming that would not otherwise be present, and we want artists to be able to make a living with their art.”
Auburn Public Theater has been making life more livable in Central New York since its opening in 2005. “There is a great quote by Rollo May,” said Daddabbo. “‘What if imagination and art are not frosting at all, but the fountainhead of human experience?’ I couldn’t agree more.”