For Tim Perrino, the best thing in life is teaching kids how to fly.

Not literally, of course. The closest the 53-year-old artistic director comes to actually flying is when he's working in the rafters high above the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts stage.

Specifically, what Perrino teaches teens in his Cincinnati Young People's Theatre program is how to put on a production, from casting, costume design and stage building, to rehearsals, opening night and curtain calls. What they end up leaving with, however, is self-confidence. "I tell the kids, 'You're building a mountain, now you have to climb it.' On opening night, I tell them, 'Now you have to step off it and assume you can fly.'"

Taking that daunting step is something Perrino knows plenty about. It's how he got to where he is today: head of Cincinnati Landmark Productions, an umbrella company that manages the Covedale, Showboat Majestic and CYPT.

A shy kid himself, Perrino used acting as "my doorway, my voice" and ended up majoring in theater at Thomas More College. One summer after graduation, while working as a performing arts coordinator for the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, Perrino enlisted 16 high school students to star in a play at Westwood Town Hall. "It was fun," he recalls, "but it got very successful." In 1982, CRC approved a proposal from Perrino to start CYPT, which he now describes as a "summer-long theater camp" for teens.

A few years after the birth of CYPT, Perrino also began directing a summer youth performance in Belleville, Ill. While directing Godspell one year, Perrino cast a young man as the lead whose father turned out to be the head of parks and recreation in nearby St. Louis.

"After the performance, the head of parks and recreation in St. Louis was sitting on a plane next to the head of recreation in Cincinnati," Perrino says. "The St. Louis guy was talking about Godspell and said his son's production was headed by some 'crazy Italian guy.' Then the Cincinnati guy said something about a 'crazy Italian guy' who headed a young people's theater here. They finally realized it was the same guy "” me."

The fact that the head of Cincinnati recreation now saw the CYPT director as a regional theatrical force helped Perrino in 1990, when the city was looking for someone new to operate the Showboat Majestic, Cincinnati's floating theater. "I competed to get the contract for the Showboat, and I won," Perrino relates, then adds with a laugh, "The fools bought it."

At that point, Perrino stopped working for the city and created a nonprofit organization that would oversee both the Showboat and CYPT. He and Doug Ridenour, the president of the newly formed nonprofit's board of trustees, soon realized the need for another venue. "If anything were to happen to the Showboat or our ability to have CYPT performances at Westwood, we were in trouble," Perrino explains. "Doug drove by the Covedale in September 2001 and saw a 'For Lease' sign. Then, we started raising armies and supporters."

Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the city, a relentless fundraising drive "” helped by Perrino's west-side roots and a rally featuring Mayor Charlie Luken "” Perrino raised the $500,000 needed to buy the Covedale in 2002. That same year, he renamed his nonprofit Cincinnati Landmark Productions and married his wife, Jennifer, who now works as the organization's business manager.

Today, the Covedale houses a winter subscription series and CYPT's summer program. Although the restored 1940s movie theater in Price Hill has undergone numerous renovations, including a recent $400,000 backstage addition, the Covedale still retains remnants from its cinema days, such as a flashing marquee and a concession stand.

In addition to a few remaining superficial restorations to the Covedale "” the marquee, Perrino notes, is next in line for a facelift "” the theater maven also has broader goals for CLP. Without going into specifics, Perrino points to the beacon on the top of the Covedale. "I love our logo. I think this area needs a beacon and we can be that for it. I'd like to be part of some kind of redefinition of this business district."

Also in the works: a search for a third venue that would host a dramatic series. Perrino says he'd like to expand the organization's brand to keep up with his audience's changing tastes. "People my age like musicals and comedies," he explains, "but they also want to see more contemporary drama."

With respect to the Showboat, Perrino is keeping a close eye on the future Broadway Commons casino and the Banks project. "They might be the greatest things that have ever happened to us, but they might not. We don't know."

For now, the cheery thespian is content to get back to work on CYPT's summer show of Les Misérables.

"The first rehearsal last night was such a gas," Perrino says with his signature smile. "Theater kids are the best kids in the world."