When the Loveland Stage Company’s theater erupted in flames last October, 30 years of work was incinerated. It would take an outpouring of help from the community to build it up from ashes.

The company is award winning and draws an audience from all around the Tristate. With reconstruction underway, patrons will again be able to see comedies, tragedies and musicals in historic Loveland. In November, just a little over a year since the fire, the lights will come up on Miss Saigon, the first production in the theater since its incredible tragedy.

A Look Back

Pat Furterer, multiple-term president of the Loveland Stage Company, decided to start the group 30 years ago. She had been acting since age 8 and had also directed plays. Furterer bought an ad in the local newspaper to see if anyone else was interested in starting a stage company. When nine people showed up to meet her, she knew it was going to be a success.

In the fall of 1979, the curtain opened on the company’s first production,
My Three Angels. For many years following, the group performed in various venues, including local schools. They wanted more storage and rehearsal space, however, and hoped to soon find a theater to call home.

“Over the years, I have looked at every building, every barn, every empty storefront in this town hoping to find a sufficient facility,” Furterer explains.

In 1996, the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department purchased the old Crist Theater on Second Street in downtown Loveland, which served as a movie theater from 1939 to the early 1960s. It was subsequently used as a storage facility for a lumber company and a bank. The fire department made the charitable donation of the empty theater to the Loveland Stage Company in 1998.

Despite the fire department’s generosity, the building needed ample work. To bring it up to code, new plumbing, electricity, heating, air conditioning, paint and walls all had to be installed, along with other restorations.

Finally, the theater was ready to debut in 2002. The beautifully restored historic building featured new chairs, a large stage and quality lighting. Eventually, stained-glass comedy and tragedy masks would greet patrons at the entrance.

The company performed the comedy Play On as the first production in its new home.

In the next few years, the group put on a variety of plays, including Singing in the Rain, The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun and The King and I. They also held many workshops and plays for children.

When the company was halfway through production of the play Pajama Game, tragedy struck the recently revamped, historic theater.

Up in Smoke

On Oct. 20, 2008, Furterer was driving home from a concert that her granddaughter was performing in at Lakota West High School. Upon entering Loveland, she saw smoke and a commotion in the distance. When she pulled up to a police officer, she asked frantically if the smoke was from her theater. He replied, “Yes, ma’am. It is.”

“I don’t remember parking my car. I don’t remember walking down the street. By then, most of the big flames were down,” Furterer recalls.

When she approached the theater, Furterer witnessed the partially burning and smoldering remains of the theater she had spent so much time to find, restore and polish. She passed out briefly, and the next thing she recalls is having Loveland’s mayor and vice mayor supporting her on either side.

After the fire, which firefighters believe was caused by an electrical malfunction, was extinguished, the building had no ceiling to speak of — it lay in heaps of scorched wood blanketing the floor. Almost everything in the building was lost, including an extensive collection of costumes.

“The theater itself was totally destroyed,” Furterer describes. “We lost 30 years of costume collection, and we had some real gems,” including vintage dresses from the 1920s and 30s, furs coats, wedding gowns, hats and uniforms.

Not only was the theater an outlet for the arts and a gathering place for locals, but it was also a second home to many. Furterer calls the theater “my baby,” and members of the stage company have affectionately taken to referring to her as “Mama.”

“My life is in this theater,” Furterer says. “The last 30 years of my life have been dedicated to it.”

Rebuild and Play On

The theater was going to be rebuilt and look better than ever — Furterer had no doubt in her mind. The only problem was coming up with the cash to fund the extensive repairs.

Deirdre Dyson, an original member of the stage company, volunteered to head up the fundraising efforts. The name of the campaign, “Rebuild and Play On,” is a slogan based on the title of the theater’s first production at its Second Street location. Though hopeful, Dyson and Furterer could not have anticipated the level of enthusiasm from the community.

“In these times, we have really done well,” Furterer says. “Some people have given us 10 dollars. One friend gave me a check for $10,000. She just loves the theater and wanted to see us come back.”

In fact, every business in historic Loveland has held a fundraiser or somehow given to the company’s cause. Dog washes and road rallies have conjured up cash. Local restaurants have donated a night’s proceeds. A structural engineer has offered his services free of charge. New comedy and tragedy stained-glass panels have been donated. The relative of a former milliner at Shillito’s department store has given a collection of hats. And a multitude of costumes have poured in, even without space for storage.

Dave Welsh, a longtime stage company member and an architect by profession, also gave his services. After witnessing the horrific fire, he drew up blueprints to rebuild the beloved theater, just as it was.

“We have raised about $150,000. It’s a lot, but not quite enough. We’ll fix more things as we go,” Dyson says.

As of August, machinery was buzzing and sawdust layered the partially completed stage. In November, the building will be open to the public for the grand re-opening of the Loveland Stage Company’s theater.

The first production will be Miss Saigon, directed by Dyson and produced by Furterer. Furterer says the Loveland Stage Company will be the first community theater in Ohio to do Miss Saigon.

The company members have wanted to perform the play since before the fire. Now, they’ll finally have the chance. Welsh has agreed to build sets, which Dyson will be painting. Most costumes will be borrowed, and authentic peasant hats that Furterer’s son bought on a recent trip to Vietnam will also be worn. The fire department has again stepped up and allowed the cast to rehearse in the station’s hall until construction is complete.

When the curtain opens on Nov. 6, Furterer and her beloved cast and crew will use lighting, heating and plumbing made possible by the community. The comfy new chairs and the floor under the dancers’ feet wouldn’t exist without the giving spirit of Loveland. It’s apparent that the entire town wants its theater to “break a leg,” even if it means lending a hand.

“You can’t do it without the community support,” Furterer emphasizes. “You really can’t.”