With help from Tom Hanks, Cleveland’s Hanna Theatre is almost ready to reopen

Chris Kallio

Thanks to the Cleveland community, and an actor who found his start there named Tom Hanks, the Hanna Theatre is nearly finished with its ambitious renovation, making it the future permanent home of the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

Todd Krispinsky, marketing and public relations director of Great Lakes, discussed the campaign.

“Moving to the Hanna has afforded us the opportunity to design a new home for our company that truly reflects our aesthetic, right-size our house for our audience and create a revolutionary theatrical experience that resonates more profoundly with 21st century patrons,” he said.

The festival, formerly known as the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, is the second oldest regional theater company in Cleveland, and was founded by Arthur Lithgow, the father of John Lithgow. One of its artistic directors was acclaimed director Vincent Dowling, who directed Kent State’s production of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” as part of its guest-director series in 2006. He also wrote an adaptation of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was used for Kent State’s production in 2007.

Dowling is perhaps best known as the man who discovered Hanks, a young intern from Sacramento, Ca., and brought him to the festival in Cleveland in 1977. Hanks has been involved in the money-raising effort of the campaign, helping to raise the last $3.6 million.

The actor, whose movies have made him the third best-selling movie star in Hollywood, told the Plain Dealer last week, “I could go on about what I learned at Great Lakes for an hour-and-a-half.”

Hanks, who won the Cleveland Critics Circle Award for his performance as Proteus in Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” will possibly make an appearance at the Hanna next spring.

Others who have performed at the Hanna in its history include Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Boris Karloff, Orson Wells and Cleveland natives Hal Holbrook and Paul Newman.

The Hanna, named after architect Dan Hanna’s father, the late Sen. Mark Hanna, is almost complete in its restoration, with a cost of $19.2 million, making it the last of Cleveland’s five 1920s theaters to have gone through a renovation. The theater will feature a hydraulic thrust stage and a 550-seat house (The theater originally contained 1,400 seats.), and is scheduled to open Sept. 20.

Krispinsky discussed the rationale for the move, saying that it identified the theater on both the inside and

the outside.

“Additionally, the Hanna allows us to clearly brand the identity of our company inside the theater and on the exterior East 14th Street marquee – a luxury that we have never had in our 46-year history,” he said.

He also spoke about Hanks’ active involvement in the campaign, describing his passionate and committed role in helping his home theater grow.

“We are grateful to him for his support as we approach the homestretch of our fundraising efforts,”

Krispinsky said.

To date, the campaign has raised $15.6 million.

According to Krispinsky, Great Lakes was the largest user of the Ohio Theatre – the most requested space at PlayhouseSquare. With GLTF’s move, PlayhouseSquare can now accommodate that demand and schedule additional cultural attractions for the region’s residents.

As for the supposed ghosts of the Hanna during this renovation, Krispinsky said, “hopefully we haven’t disturbed any.”

Contact all reporter Chris Kallio [email protected].