Singin’ on the Ohio

Summer Theater in a Big Red Barn

By Susan Schaul

The Big Red Barn nestled into a Cuyahoga Valley National Park hillside is a sight to behold.

Built in 1905, this Wisconsin-style 2-story dairy barn at one time housed 60 cows and overflowed with hay on the threshing floor (second floor). Not a metal nail in sight, the pegged wooden planks, made of hickory and oak, were milled in Tennessee. The 45-foot high peaked metal roof is connected to the wood frame with metal attachments. The barn is 104 feet long and 40+ feet wide – a truly impressive space for a summer theatre, thought Bill Hoffman — former producer of the Children’s Theatre and director of education at the Cleveland Play House — when he first walked into the barn.

Located at Canal Road and Tinkers Creek in Valley View in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Hoffman and neighboring farmer, David Wingenfeld (Canal Corners Farm & Market), are turning this high-ceiling barn structure into the Lantern Theatre. Thinking to expand his farm, Wingenfeld signed a 60-year lease of the old Gleason farm from the Cuyahoga Valley National Conservancy.

After meeting Hoffman three years ago, they decided to form a working partnership to bring live, family-oriented summer theatre to Northeast Ohio audiences. The first production, Singin’ on the Ohio, tells the story of a young girl from Cleveland traveling the length of the Ohio-Erie Canal in 1845.

Written and directed by Eric Schmiedl, this show was first presented at the Cleveland Play House Children’s Theatre in 2003. A young orphan, Bit Muellers, played by Andrea Belser, must travel from Cleveland to Cincinnati to join her grandparents. The canal boat is piloted by Irish-American immigrant Timothy Egan, played by Eric Schmiedl. The young girl is literate but Timothy cannot read. His first time piloting the boat down the canal, he needs someone who can read the boat log. Timothy can sing but Bit is shy, inhibiting her from using her voice. As they journey south down the water, we see how they learn from each other and grow in understanding.

“I built my first theatre in New York,” said Hoffman, “and stayed on for 10 years. This time I asked my wife first to make sure she understood I would spend a lot of time here. She said yes and is helping with the marketing.” Hoffman works a regular job as a Life Coach with ProjectACT, an educational program for homeless children and youth sponsored by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and the Reading Company, where children have fun reading and dramatizing stories.

Singin’ on the Ohio is a great story. There is even a thunderstorm and the boat goes through canal locks,” said Hoffman. “There are no gimmicks and no video games; real summer theatre,” he smiled. “I believe in the power of the barn,” he added.

See the adventure of a lifetime at the Big Red Barn on Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm and 3pm starting Sat 6/23 – Sun 9/16. No shows Sat 8/4 & Sun 8/5. All seats are $10. Call 216-401-5131 or click here for more information.

Traffic and GPS Alert: Canal Road just north of Tinkers Creek Road is currently closed for construction through September 2012. From the north and east and west sides: 480 to 77 South. Exit Pleasant Valley Road ad proceed east 2.6 miles to Canal Road North. Proceed 1 mile to Tinkers Creek. From the south: Canal Road North to Tinkers Creek or 77N. Exit Pleasant Valley Road and proceed eat 2.6 miles to Canal Road North. 1 mile to Tinkers Creek. From the nearby east: Dunham Road to Tinkers Creek Road to Canal Road. Located at 7243 Canal Road, Valley View, OH.


From Cool Cleveland contributor Susan Schaul, who says the act of writing is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The challenge lies in getting the pieces to fit together and make sense.




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