Making Waves: Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Builds Audience for Local Business

Sometimes art comes from turning something old into something new.  In the heart of one of Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhoods, Over-the-Rhine, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati produces new plays and plays new to the region for over 25,000 people each year.

From its location on Vine Street, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati has seen the transformation of this neighborhood from a blighted and abandoned collection of buildings, to a bustling, thriving arts and business district.

ETC’s commitment to the neighborhood extends beyond traditional partnerships between restaurants, galleries and theatres.  In the past two years, that commitment drove Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers to make a change to the theatre’s programming.

“It used to be we took a break in the summer, like many professional theatres,” says Meyers. “Two years ago, I was talking to the general manager at one of the new restaurants on Vine Street and he said to me, ‘I wish you were open every night.  Our business goes up 70% every night you have a show.’  The fall off that he saw in traffic during the summer was so bad, he had to consider laying off staff until our season started again in September.  It got me thinking that as a neighbor and a 25-year resident in this community, Ensemble has a responsibility to keep people coming down here over the summer so that they can see what we see every day—a neighborhood transformed.  We have to help keep the momentum going.”


Vine Street before and after


In the summer of 2001, Meyers had programmed a rock musical during the summer months, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” that had played to sold-out houses and breathed new life into the neighborhood. After long discussions with her small, dedicated staff, Meyers made the decision in 2010 to program an extra musical every summer—feel-good, fun titles that audiences love, like “Winter Wonderettes.”

While the addition to their season creates extra work, the shows also bring in new audiences for the theatre and for Over-the-Rhine.  “'Wonderettes’ played to 80% capacity—and that’s all single ticket sales, not subscriptions,” notes Meyers.  The show created jobs for eight full-time employees who otherwise would not have been working this summer, and fellow Gateway Merchants like Lavomatic and Senate reported increased business during the run of the show.

Tracey Lynn Conrad, Chair of the Arts and Entertainment committee for Mayor Mallory's Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet, recently organized an event for Young Professionals at ETC with the Young Philanthropists' Society of Cincinnati, and was impressed with the theatre and the neighborhood.  "We saw 'Next to Normal' and then walked down to the Lackman for a drink," says Tracey, "The cast and crew joined us at the bar after the show, and the place was packed.  It was great to see how the district itself was working together to make a great evening for everyone." Tracey notes that the sold-out show meant that some people were on the wait list for the event.  "Everyone talked about how cool the theatre was.  Ensemble Theatre is a great asset to our city."

With more shops and restaurants opening each month in Over-the-Rhine, the synergy between arts and business in the neighborhood will continue to grow. “We’re proud to have been a pioneer in this community,” says Meyers, “We want everyone to celebrate its success with us.”