Small World, Big Stages: Licking County Players in Newark, Ohio
Lead Writer, Max Berry explores theatres outside of NY in this ongoing series.
“There can never be enough live theatre.” -Robert DeBenedictus
Short and sweet, this quote by one of Licking County Player’s founders hangs above the entrance to the theatre. This little sentence is the philosophy that has guided and continues to guide countless theatre patrons, performers, directors, board members, and more at Licking County Players theater in Newark, Ohio. Now, right in the middle of downtown Newark on Main Street, Licking County Players continues to delight and inspire people of all ages in their community.
LCP has had a rich history and has taken many different forms over the last fifty-three years. Beginning as the Welsh Hills players in 1967, a group of bold theatre lovers performed four productions in the Fellowship Hall of the Plymouth United Church of Christ. After the success of these productions they moved to the Red Brick German Lutheran Church, which they made into a 129 seat theatre. In 1981 the group moved to the Auditorium Theater in downtown Newark and changed their name to Licking County Players in order to broaden their theatre audience to all of Licking County. Then in 1984, LCP began performing shows in Founders Hall at the Ohio State University at Newark. This continued for twelve years before they finally made their home on East Main Street in a funeral home. Since then, LCP has stood tall and proud in the middle of downtown Newark, delighting new and old audiences alike with eight shows a year.
Edie Norlin has been with Licking County Players since 1992. Her first show with the theatre was in 1994 with Blithe Spirit. Since then she has acted, directed, and spent 12 years on the board of directors of which she has served as both vice president and president at different times. While beginning as an actor, Edie made her LCP directing debut with Lost in Yonkers” eight years after arriving at the theatre.
Before their home on West Main Street, LCP mounted several productions in Founders Hall at the Ohio State University at Newark. The two organizations put on joined productions in what was called their “town and gown” productions. “When we actually moved into our own building…that we weren’t renting…it changed the organization.” Norlin says. They became one of the few theaters in central Ohio to have their own space and were finally able to store props and costumes on site, rather than sharing a space with other theaters.
Once she was put in charge of the Black Box Theatre at The Ohio State University at Newark, Norlin sought to bridge the gap between the two organizations, after the previous person in charge of the space wanted nothing to do with community theatre and refused to collaborate with Licking County Players.
“When I began doing productions at the black box I very much wanted the for the black box to connect with other theatrical organizations in the area…and suddenly there were as many Licking County Players actors as there were actors from OSUN.”
Since then there has not only been continued collaboration with the college, but many of the students from OSUN have become regulars on the Licking County Players stage. Such a collaboration has brought theatre even further into the Newark community.
Licking County Players has recently begun featuring work by local playwrights. This began in the fall of 2016 with the world premiere of Empty Nest by local playwright P.J Gassman. Since then they have also mounted Oh? For Heaven’s Sake! By Tom Durkin. A third original play is set to premiere next season and they hope to continue to do this every other year.
In their off seasons from originals, the theater hopes to continue putting on Shakespeare. LCP has prided themselves on how they have introduced Shakespeare to a new generation. Their Shakespeare performances include cast members of all ages and for many young actors, it is the first time that they ever perform these plays. LCP has brought Shakespeare to an audience that has been a little afraid of it for a while and made it accessible and much less intimidating. These have included a version of Taming of the Shrew set in a 1920s speakeasy and a modern day Julius Caesar with newscasts and film.
LCP has truly remained a community theatre. Bringing in people from all walks of life- professional actors,, high schoolers, college students and really anyone who is curious about theatre and wants to dive in. If you want to be a part of the community, you will not be turned away. In regards to this community, LCP actor and board member, Elena Fruchtnicht says “I was at LCP through some of the roughest times in my life and having a sense of purpose, a sense of community, and a really great way to work through a lot of the problems I had with mental health, theatre became my life line. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed theatre it weren’t for the community surrounding it. I think what really made LCP for me was the people…” Fruchtnicht organized a Halloween costume sale and hopes to have many more community engagements in the future.
Husband and Wife, Travis and Katie Kopp have been at LCP for many years now in multiple capacities from acting to directing. They have even both served on LCPs board of directors. When asked about their thoughts on LCP’s community engagement both Kopps had some interesting thoughts.
Katie: “I think we help a lot in the community but the community doesn’t know who we are. We do stuff with the historical society like the graveyard walks and stuff like that, but people still don’t understand that those are LCP actors, they think they are just people who volunteer for the historical society.”
Travis: “If you wanted to be a participant in live art, you are much more likely to be able to do it at LCP and that’s a community function that has helped a lot of kids, helped a lot of people through rough times, helped give people a sense of community when they didn’t have it. And we don’t recognize that outloud very often.”
Both Kopps came to LCP along with a group of their friends, having studied theatre in college. Katie Kopp found herself at Licking County Players after stepping in as a stage manager for their production of Bride of Blowing Rock in 2011. Her husband, Travis, along with many of their friends from Newark High School, joined shortly after in a production of The Trouble with Cats by Gary Ray Stapp. From this production both Kopps, as well as most of their friends involved in that production, continued coming back and most of them now serve on LCP’s board of directors. The Kopp’s seven year-old son Rowen was even most recently in the theater’s production of Our Town. When asked about his budding theater career, Rowan said, “When I grow up, I will have been doing theatre since I was in Kindergarden.”
The young Kopp is not the only kid to have been bitten by the theatre bug at Licking County Players. Many young actors have their love of theatre at LCP Over the years the theater has put on summer youth productions that include Willy Wonka Jr, Tom Sawyer, Honk Jr, and many more. More often than not, the kids in these productions have gone on to appear in some of the adult casts as well. Recently, however, LCP has moved away from the kids or Jr. show and instead opted for the family production. Now children can engage with adult actors and really have someone to look up to while feeling like they are in a “grown up show.” The next one of these is Annie! this August.
No doubt there are countless memories created at Licking County Players. When asked about some of them, Katie Kopp said:
“So, Travis and I were on stage during a production of She Loves Me and we were eating “stage food” some instant mashed potatoes and grape juice for ‘wine’. I kept thinking…’man, the pipes in this building are so bad…these mashed potatoes taste metallic.” Then I realized the grape juice tasted metallic as well….that’s when I first suspected I was pregnant with Rowan. I was right.”
The family and community aspects of the theatre can perhaps be best summed up in Fruchtnicht’s favorite memory:
“Saturday morning before we opened Empty Nest, my grandfather who was living with us passed away. It was such an awful morning that happened to coincide with a set build Saturday at the theater followed by the annual falcon awards. My parents didn’t really want it to be just an awful day for me so they encouraged me leaving the house. A friend from the theater picked me up from my house and took me to set building at the theater. Afterwards I got ready for the falcon awards with some friends and then celebrated each other’s achievements. It wasn’t a good day, but I spent it surrounded by my second family who were there for me and helped me make it through. To me, that fundamentally sums up at licking County players is, a second home and the second family and always there when you need it.”
Licking County Players is currently in rehearsals for The Drowsy Chaperone with performances February 28th-March 8th. So if you find yourself in the Newark, Ohio area, go check it out and become a part of the community! And what better way to finish off than with these final thoughts from Travis Kopp:
“The thing about community theatre, is that it’s a chance to have a lot of people participate in live art in a way that very few art forms get a chance to do. It can produce some really great stuff but I think more importantly than that is the community interaction, is the way people can find a group of people they belong to, that very few modern institutions keep up…there’s just not a lot of places in your life outside of work that you’re supposed to be meeting people and getting along with someone on a larger scale. Community theatre is still a great place to do that and I think LCP is…a place where someone can find a place to be home when their not stuck in their house.”