Norwalk residents Theresa Barcus and Vanessa Cook only recently purchased the building at 57 E. Main St. In 2018, they founded the Norwalk Arts Center LLC, a state-registered non-profit organization.
“This is a community theater; this is for the community. That’s why we’re doing this. It’s sad to see a building like that sit empty when it has so much potential,” Cook said. “Our drive is for the community. … Our slogan right now is ‘Creating arts, building community.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. It really will take a community effort.”
Cook and Barcus plan to have classes and fine art camps for youth and adults in the theater. If the downtown building isn’t ready to be occupied, the owners said those events could happen at a rented site. The ideal opening date for the educational component is September.
So far, nine people are confirmed to be on the Norwalk Arts Center board of directors. Cook and Barcus are looking to fill three more spots.
“They would be the overseers of the finances and the direction of the organization. Being a 501(c)(3), you have to have a board of directors,” Cook said.
“Everything we have so far has been through financial donations from community members,” she added, noting that was how she and Barcus paid for the theater.
Barcus and Cook said they plan to fund the Norwalk Arts Center, its programs and theater performances through grants and donations.
“We do want to have big-name entertainment come through. We do want to be a road house for traveling acts; this is something we want to do and include in our process,” Cook said. “Even movies maybe.”
‘Really inclusive’ programming
The owners have people lined up to be instructors for the classes and camps.
“There is a local artist who wants to teach there and wants to do exhibits there,” Barcus said. “Our hope is to have a special needs theater troupe also. I think there is a lot that demographic could benefit from, doing music or theater or art.
“Our biggest dream is we would be the main teachers. Local teachers can provide private lessons there.”
“We want to be really inclusive,” Cook added, referring to who could attend the classes and camps. “We have already reached out to the Hispanic community or the Latino community … to help us determine some things they would like to see in their heritage and their interest.”
Barcus studied theater at Kent State University. She is a Mira Family Charity board member and has had several executive roles with Mira Productions. Barcus is the current director for the St. Paul High School spring musical and was an assistant director at the Greenbriar and Cassidy theaters. She also is an education aide with the NCS Early Childhood Center Flyers club.
Cook earned her undergraduate degree in music therapy from the Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music. She has a master of arts in theater from Regent University. Cook is the owner of Cook Theatre Designs LLC, doing freelance costume, prop and set design work for Cleveland-area theaters.
Making a go of the Norwalk Theatre, she said, is “an expansion of my personal business, but in a different sector.”
“I do an educational component with my work as well as a freelancer. … I said, ‘This is something we could do on our own.’ She (Barcus) has the background of teaching theater and I have the more technical side, so we’re a really good partnership in that way,” Cook added.
After she moved from Tiffin, Cook met Barcus when Cook’s son auditioned for the St. Paul musical about two years ago. Cook then became a parent-volunteer.
The co-owners shared their vision for the theater and Norwalk Arts Center.
“We are trying to emulate essentially the Ritz Theatre,” said Cook, who grew up in Tiffin and participated in the Ritz Theatre camps as a girl. “They offer comedians; they offer a Ritz player group, which … (does) four or five shows a year. They have a teen thespian guild; they have a summer camp — all of those things.”
The co-owners also said they “want to partner with local business and vendors,” so people will eat at downtown restaurants and/or visit stores before or after a show.
The Norwalk Arts Center has a Sept. 16 fundraiser planned, a bus tour that starts at Sandy Ridge Winery. Barcus is the Sandy Ridge events coordinator.
“We will come down to local venues and stores. We haven’t confirmed everything yet, but we want them to open their doors to our 50 bus riders (and) offer them opportunities to shop in their stores eat locally — all of that,” Cook said.