This University Circle theatre company is the only one of its kind in the U.S.

When Mark and Bill Corcoran laid eyes on an elegant ballroom stage in their new senior living community at Judson Manor, Bill got a glimpse of the retired couple’s "second act"—bringing professional theatre to University Circle.

“Wouldn’t that be a great space for a musical?” Bill mused.

And the proverbial curtain opened on Theatre in the Circle, now in its third season at Judson Manor. The country's only resident-driven professional theatre company based in a retirement community, Theatre in the Circle was nominated for a 2018 Cleveland Arts Prize in August.

“Our performances aren’t talent shows. Judson residents are sophisticated patrons of the arts, retired from cultural arts boards and professional careers in the arts,” says Mark. “Seniors now seek high-quality life experiences during their retirement years.”

Their newest show—a musical adaptation of the O’Henry classic, "Gift of the Magi"—will be presented later this week (running December 6-9). The production was adapted through the music and lyrics of composer Peter Ekstrom, a Cleveland native who now resides in New York City.

“It’s a timeless story about innocent giving,” says Peter, who is delighted his adaptation has come back home. To date, it has been performed at hundreds of theatres across the country. Ekstrom will attend all five Cleveland performances.

The show is part of a 2018-2019 slate that also includes productions of "Liberace!," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," and "Pump Boys and Dinettes." All productions are led by the Corcorans—managing director Mark (a marketing professional and musician) and artistic director Bill (a trained classical pianist with a long career as a theatre director, writer, composer, and educator).

“We were drawn to University Circle for its rich artistic offerings, “ says Bill. “But professional theatre was missing up here.”

They also saw the opportunity to fill a niche for seniors with mobility issues who might have issues accessing Playhouse Square, so they developed their community theatre concept specifically for Judson. 60 percent of the audiences are residents and 40 percent are theatre patrons from all over Cleveland.

Seating 125 patrons, each performance is immersive, with barrier-free access and hearing loop connections available. Each season, four to five productions are presented. The company hires local equity and non-equity actors, a chamber orchestra, a professional lighting engineer, costumer, and stage manager.

“One emerging trend in musical theatre is the one-act performance, with no intermission. This format works for our residents,” says Bill.

Theatre in the Circle selects its productions through Cocoon, its incubator program. Local musical theatre mavens accept works from writers and composers across the U.S. to help them develop their work. It also promotes theatre career education, offering paid internships in production skills to students at Cleveland School of the Arts.

Performances of "Gift of the Magi" will take place December 6-9—get show times and more information here. Theatre in the Circle is located at 1890 E 107th St., Cleveland, OH 44106.

Read more articles by Cindy Hill.

Cindy Hill is a freelance writer based in Shaker Heights. She enjoys telling the stories of impact makers—the organizations and businesses that keep Cleveland at the forefront of innovation. For more than 22 years, she has produced award-winning curriculum, proposals, books, and articles, driven by her insatiable curiosity to find out “what’s next.”
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