Aug 21, 2015

Drama At Civic Little Theatre

Architecturally, the 19th Street Theater has no rival. The tile elephant trunks coming down the edges of the facade have delighted viewers since 1928. Up to last year, there was one other Venetian type building in Allentown, in the 700 block of Hamilton, but it was  knocked down to accommodate the arena monstrosity. The 19th Street theater has survived because of it's current affiliation with the Civic Theatre, a non-profit cultural group. Shown above is the Franklin, in the 400 block of Tilghman Street, which survived until 2008. That theater,  built a century ago in 1913,  was also called the Jennette for about forty years.

reprinted from July 2013, then titled, Allentown's Last Movie Theaters

ADDENDUM: When I was a little boy, the Civic Theatre was already putting on productions for both adults and children. As an adult, Barry and Sharon Glassman have been synonymous with the theater's continued vitality. Unfortunately, I have recently received a report that the theater is currently suffering from Founder's Syndrome.
Founder's syndrome is a difficulty faced by many organizations where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it.
According to this source, half of the staff, and a third of the board, have parted way in protest of the current leadership. I have not investigated this allegation. My gut feeling is that the Glassman's have been the energy and glue which has kept the theater continuously open for the last several decades. I will accept, by moderation, limited comments to this post which may shed light on the current situation.

UPDATE: After several complaints about the current leadership, and requests to provide space for this topic,  not one of the callers has submitted a comment.  Apparently, they wanted me to air their grievances, but they don't want to comment themselves, even anonymously. With that sort of timidity, I don't know how they think that they could run the theater any better.


Anonymous said...

Watched the new Sherlock Holmes film there about two weeks ago on a weeknight. There were only 4 other people there.

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

scott, let me use your comment as a vehicle for an addendum to the post. i do not have direct knowledge of the theater, either plays or movies, but realize that it is the anchor of that neighborhood, and an asset to allentown. i just explained to a phone caller, that although he's welcome to submit a comment, i'm personally not that interested in the current controversy, assuming that there is one. this post was meant as a vehicle for those who believe that this topic needs some discussion. i will host comments which are not too long in length, and which do not inappropriately disparage anyone.

Anonymous said...


One more thing, the 19th Street Theater shows every Left Wing documentary that comes down the pike. People notice that sort of thing and it has its repercussions. I know nothing about any leadership problems but when an entity wears its ideology on its sleeve it might be bad for business.
I obviously ignore that to enjoy the spectacle of watching films in the glory of the theater.

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

scott@9:36, i disagree, i think the demographic for an art film theater would lean left. but, we're both off topic, which is the current dynamics of their internal management. on that topic, i will make on observation. having been involved in many issues over the years, i know that people who become newly involved are very enthusiastic, but will they be around in 3 years, or ten years, or for the long haul, as were the current "founders?"

Anonymous said...

The 19th Theater is one of Allentown's most important cultural assets.
I attend films there regularly and while I can't add to this discussion, wish it a long and prosperous

Anonymous said...

I have a great deal to add to this discussion, however I am away and away from my laptop so it must wait until I return home tomorrow. But I must say this: I have taught, performed and volunteered at Civic Theatre for nearly 20 years. In fact, many of the Civic family, like the Glassmans, have contributed time and energy and love to the organization for decades. Those who have walked out on Civic, in a most unprofessional way I might add, left because they do not have the history of Civic in mind when they propose its future. Civic is a community theatre first and foremost with an artistic director whose collaboration with the board under Sharon Glassman's leadership provides quality, professional live theatre for every type of theatre-goer. We enrich the lives of people from pre-school to 100. All under the successful leadership of the Glassmans, whose tireless dedication and endurance ought to be applauded as they continue to strive toward Civic's future brilliance. More on that tomorrow! Shame on the disgruntled, rumor spewing, slanderous individuals who indeed caused the latest turbulence at our beloved theatre.

michael molovinsky said...

@5:16, what i find interesting, after several phones calls requesting me to provide space to this topic, not one of the people have submitted a comment. apparently, they wanted me to air their grievances, but they don't want to directly comment, even anonymously. with that sort of timidity, i don't know how they think that they could run the theater any better.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed the films at the 19th Street Teatre for decades and have been a member since memberships were fist proposed. We are very fortunate to have this wonderful facility with the caliber of films shown in Allentown. I am also aware that it is extremely challenging to operate a not for profit performing arts organization that is the owner of a classic but aging facility. There is also more competition for an audience in the Valley, with the new Frank Banko Cinemas at Artsquest directly competng for the audience that Civic drew to its films for a long time. The constant pressure for fundraising to cover operating and capital (building upkeep) costs is unrelentig that can stress out the most dedicated volunteers and staff. The 19th Street Theater is in need of repairs and renovation of its roof and interior that is going to cost serious $s. The Civic conducted a survey earlier this year, I received and filled out the survey, to determine what events would be supported by patrons. The renovation of the 519 Building across the street has been a great success. It is my most sicere wish that folks involved in opertaing the Civic and its fabulous theater succeed so we can continue to enjy this culturl gem.

Anonymous said...

The Civic Theater is a landmark in need of a lot of repair except for the new bathrooms. If the same people have been in charge of the theater for so long, why hasn't it been fixed up? I thought it was privately owned. If it is a not for profit community theater, aren't there laws about the same people being in leadership for so long?

michael molovinsky said...

@8:57, if there has been new bathrooms installed, kudos to the directors. why would there be a law against the same people being in charge, as long as they're appointed or elected by a board? have you ever volunteered or made a contribution?

Anonymous said...

I asked Sharon Glassman for this list:

The lists below are only a snapshot of the highlights, not a summary of the hundreds of actions or accomplishments over the years.

Procedures and Actions to Grow the Quality of the Programming and Ensure Survival (not necessarily in chronological order)

Took Civic Theatre out of a large deficit by producing BABES IN TOYLAND, the first of our holiday shows to appeal to large audiences and sponsors, and thereby generate operating revenue.

Adapted A CHRISTMAS CAROL thereby eliminating high royalties, to create the single highest revenue producing production in Civic’s history. This production has also become an annual family tradition in the Lehigh Valley and has played (with heavily discounted tickets) to literally thousands of students due to its qualification as curriculum enhancement.

Saved the art film venue when the Heydts, who had rented the theatre for that purpose, could not longer rent the facility. This action took tremendous energy which finally resulted in Civic forming a committee made up of citizens, secured and led by Dr. Barry Glassman, who loved the movies enough to work diligently to not only revive them, but also grow them into the operation that we see today.

In an attempt to institute industry standard production values (previously sets were thrown together in one week by volunteers with good intentions but no leadership or skills), enlisted the services of the first ever professional set designer.

In preparation for staff expansion, developed detailed job descriptions and a handbook.

Hired a professional Artistic Director, a graduate of the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts who had also worked in New York with a number of other acclaimed professionals. This leap of professionalism has resulted in Civic offering the community access not only the classics, comedies, musicals and tragedies offered at many theatres, but also community premiere performances of some of the most cutting edge theatre in the country, such as ANGELS IN AMERICA. The academic community and the knowledgeable theatre-going community recognize him as a remarkable asset; the performing community recognizes him as the singularly most accomplished director under whom to work; young people (including Muhlenberg theatre majors) want to audition for him, quickly note his superior abilities, and seek his advice and counsel regarding academic and professional choices. As we know a number of them have gone on to successful careers in professional theatre.

Gradually hired additional professional full time staff, including a Managing Director, a Development Director, a Box Office Manager, a Marketing and Publicity Coordinator, and Business Manager. Acquired part-time employees to work the movies.

Maintained the quality of the Children’s Theatre School, developing a credentialed teaching staff, and resulting in an enrollment that is only limited by the space.

Instituted a Summer Acting Session ( no summer classes until then) which has grown not only in numbers, but has evolved into a full day opportunity for students.

Secured an endowment for scholarships to our Civic Theatre School and received an endowment from past Chair of the then Board of Governors.

Secured a grant to bring “The Cat in the Hat’ into schools, especially into underserved neighborhoods.

To compete with more commercial venues, secured a liquor license.

Secured digital projection system in both facilities.

Updated ticketing system, ultimately achieving the ability to offer online ticket sales.

Anonymous said...

And more:
Actions and Projects to Maintain and Improve the Facility (not necessarily in chronological order)

Completely redesigned the upstairs space from several residential apartments into rehearsal/classroom space and a costume shop; consequently refurbished those spaces.

Completely redesigned dead space (once retail shops) into the staff offices that now serve our entire administrative staff.

Replaced the mainstage curtains , the black masking curtains, and the scrim.

Redid the front sidewalk by selling individual bricks.

Installed a retractable screen on the main stage.

Created the sound booth.

Completely replaced the lighting systems.

Completely replaced all backstage rigging.

Completely renovated corner storage space into handicap accessible bathrooms.

Completely designed and renovated the old wooden concession stand into the much more attractive and functional one that we use today.

Purchased Civic Theatre 514 for $260,000 and proceeded to redesign the warehouse space into a lovely black box theatre with a lobby capable of handling events and our existing shop.

Upgraded the seats in Theatre 514 from original folding chairs to authentic theatre/movie seats.

Completely refurbished the fabulous Marquee, thereby not only allowing us to utilize it for our purposes, but also giving the merchants the additional safety of its brilliance.

Restored the lobby, including the gold leaf which lines the top and the ceiling.

Replaced all doors throughout the building, thereby providing not only additional safety for patrons, but also practicing energy conservation.

Replaced the HVAC system.

Restored the historical Mueller theatre organ.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what's going on over there, and can't comment about how everything is being managed right now. I do want to provide one observation . . .

Stop playing games! If you want to air your grievances, boast of all the good things you've done, put your damn name on your contributions to the current dialogue! Stand behind what you believe. So much more credible.

Fred Windish

michael molovinsky said...

fred@6:16, i wasn't expecting the people with grievances to sign their name, but i did expect them to comment; i put up this post at their request. i may have to change the title to Drama Queens Complain About Civic Little Theatre

Artsforall said...

I applaud the accomplishments of the theatre, but those were achieved by the hardworking staff and volunteers of civic, not one person or couple as previous posts have implied. years of involvement could look impressive, but to those who know how things work it is just stale. When you are elected to a position of authority by a board you have hand chosen, is that really at estimate of your worth? What about taking a closer look at the length of time those board members serve and why they choose to leave once they figure out the lay of the land. Then take a look at the minutes of meetings that where held with or without notification to all and if a quorum was actually present. Go one step further to see the working buffets. I would guess once all of that occurs, a truer picture may develop of what goes on behind the curtain of the Civic Theatre of Allentown

michael molovinsky said...

artsforall@7:34, i see that you just created your "name handle" for this comment, i was the first to visit the profile. there is nothing wrong with that, but considering that your comment is the first critical one, and it took 39 hours to arrive, i wonder how many people are really discontent, and how long they have been affiliated with the theater? i will soon be turning off the computer for the evening, any comment sent and approved, will appear in the morning.

Artsforall said...

I agree with you and they are questions that may never be answered, much like does anyone even care about Civic?

michael molovinsky said...

artsforall@8:18, we know that the glassman's care, because they have devoted a large portion of their lives to it. we know that some people are upset and have reportedly resigned, and others persuaded me to lend this venue. although i'm surprised that more didn't comment, hopefully the post will foster something positive.

K Mary Hess said...

I for one, will begin patronizing this theatre. I ran a non-profit for years, and it is incredibly difficult work.

K Mary Hess / Photos of Lehigh Valley