Ohio Valley Summer Theater Celebrates 70th Anniversary, Access To The Arts< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – The Ohio Valley Summer Theater is preparing for a celebration of its 70th anniversary after overcoming the challenges of the 2020 pandemic.
Founded in 1951, the Ohio Valley Summer Theater (OVST) has welcomed everyone from professional actors to children just starting out. It began as a local theater, putting on multiple shows in the summer, creating a place for actors from Ohio University to perform.
The group will ring in its 70th summer with a concert featuring performers who have appeared on stage with OVST in the past. It will be held outdoors at the OU Inn, 331 Richland Ave, Athens, on Saturday, July 17 with weather permitting.
The show is already sold out, but the chance for walk-in tickets could arise depending on the weather the day of the show.
Organizers wanted to make professional, quality theater accessible to the region, and to eventually give the community an outlet to perform. Over the years, the theater has transitioned from a place for OU’s actors to what Christopher Parsons, executive director of OVST, describes as a “mix of community and professional theater.”
“The Ohio Valley Summer Theater has always been one of those options,” Christopher Parsons said. “It sprang out of that and grew out of the university, and in the past couple of decades, we have a wonderfully strong relationship with the university, but it has sprang out a bit into the community as well. I think the best way to think about OVST is the bridge between the community and the university.”
He said the theater has people who stick around for decades, while others only stay for a few summers. That is the nature of a college town like Athens, he said.
Alexis Parsons is one who has stuck around, doing her first show during her time as an OU student in 1996.
For performers like Alexis Parson, who owe a large part of their lives to the arts, there is much to celebrate. For example, being involved in the arts led to Christopher and Alexis’s marriage.
“I know certainly not everybody understands it, but there’s something in you when you’re a performer that just has that itch to kind of get out there and perform for people,” Alexis Parsons said. “I didn’t know if that was going to be able to happen this summer. We work really hard, our executive director and our board are working really hard to just have something to celebrate our 70th year.”
The celebration is also a chance to reflect on how important access to the arts is in Appalachia and rural Ohio.
Justin Nigro works with the Ohio Arts Council to support programs like the Ohio Valley Summer Theater.
“The arts bring people together,” Nigro said. “That’s a big function of what the arts have done, whether it’s ancient times or now. They connect people. They provide a sense of place, they provide a sense of local pride. That’s particularly important in rural communities. One of the greatest features of Appalachian Ohio, and rural Ohio really are it’s gathering places. Oftentimes, those are arts venues, right?”
The arts in Appalachia create places for people to socialize, but organizations like OVST also make art accessible in a region where art and professional artists are often located in larger cities, sometimes up to four hours away.
“We hear a lot about barriers to the arts,” Nigro said. “ A very common one is just having care for your children, whether you have care at home, whether it’s a family member or babysitter, transportations. Another big one, you know, do you have reliable transportation to an event? … The good news is that groups like Ohio Valley Summer Theater, and others are finding ways to overcome those.”
Christopher Parsons said OVST is frequently thinking about how it can make its shows as accessible to the community as possible.
“Accessibility is something we talk about all the time,” Christopher Parsons said. “For instance, when we do our big summer musicals, we always have a couple of performances set aside, like afternoon performances where we’ll bring in groups…youth groups from Nelsonville, things like that, and summer camp folks.”
For these groups, the performances featuring professionals and community members alike, are free. Offerings like this can majorly benefit young people, Christopher Parsons said.
“I’ve worked in public schools as well, and bringing arts to public schools and making it accessible to students is really important,” Christopher Parsons said. “It makes the arts possible. It makes it seem possible. You can do this for your job, like you can have a job as an actor…working on a set or working on lighting…that’s the pipeline. So continuing this and growing this – my wife and I talk about it all the time. It’s just our little goal here…to make the arts accessible to as many people as we can.”