By Rick Palsgrove, Groveport Editor
The performing arts have long had several homes in Groveport.
In the 19th century, one way a frontier town could show the world it was “civilized” was through the construction of public buildings and theaters.
Groveport and Madison Township achieved this in 1876 with the construction of Groveport Town Hall, which includes a fine auditorium stage on its second floor. It was the first of what would be several performance stages/auditoriums that were built in town over the next 140 years. These include auditoriums in Groveport School (1923), Groveport Madison High School (now Middle School Central) (1952), and the current new high school (2018).
(Gone, but not forgotten, is the old Groveport Madison High School auditorium built in 1975 that was demolished in 2018 when that school was torn down to make way for the new high school.)
Groveport first embraced the arts and culture in the 19th century and continues to do so in the 21st century.
Groveport Town Hall
The stage and auditorium in Groveport Town Hall is small, but the performance space and audience area makes for an intimate setting. You can see and hear everything that takes place on stage, right down to a guitarist’s fingers racing up and down the fretboard or the smallest twitchy expression on an actor’s face. The many windows bathe the room in natural light. At night it glows with a sense of history.
Over its 146 year life, this versatile auditorium has hosted plays, concerts (ranging from symphonies to folk to rock to country to choral), lectures, debates, art exhibits, parties, Santa Claus visits, weddings, and much more including Groveport Madison High School basketball games in the early 20th century.
This auditorium was home to a theatre troupe of community members called the Town Hall Players, which performed there from 1982-85 and from 1986-92.
Groveport resident Brenda Watts was a member of the Town Hall Players and she said performing in the 19th century era Town Hall auditorium presented some challenges.
“Well, the pole in the middle of the floor was a problem,” said Watts. “We had to arrange audience seats so the pole wouldn’t block sight lines. But we also used the pole. When we did ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,’ we built Snoopy’s house around the pole and made it a theatre-in-the-round for that performance.”
Watts said for the performance of “Once Upon a Mattress” the group turned the pole into a tree with tissue paper leaves. She said the group also adapted to their surroundings by temporarily expanding the stage by extending its apron at the front and sides. The stage steps and the space in front of the stage were incorporated into some shows.
The Groveport Town Hall auditorium is still a lively place.
When built in 1923, Groveport School (now Groveport Elementary) was unique for schools of that era because it had a separate gym and auditorium. Often in those days schools combined their gyms and auditoriums and built their basketball court right on the stage of their auditorium. The architects who designed Groveport School took a modern approach in separated them to give each its chance to shine.
The result was a classic auditorium complete with a wrap around balcony, a splendid stage, and rows of wooden audience seats with nice sight lines to the stage.
The Groveport School auditorium has an intimate feel with fine acoustics. It is a classy place and I can remember the elegant, velvety stage curtain emblazoned with a “G” that once hung above the stage. A nod to history is that the framed class composite photos of every graduating class from this school are hung on the walls.
It has hosted concerts, plays, Christmas events, animal exhibitions (as a kid that’s where I first learned what a coatimundi is!), farmers’ lyceums, and more. The Groveport School auditorium is a fine space for live performances and held in such high regard that Groveport Madison High School theatre department plays were held there periodically until 1975 even though the school was no longer a high school. I recall watching a stellar high school performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” there in 1974.
The auditorium also once functioned as a movie theater as there is a projection room in the rear balcony.
The Groveport School auditorium was refurbished in 2002 and it is still in use by the school.
Old high school/MS Central
As the Groveport Madison school district grew in the post World War II years, it was determined a new high school was needed to serve the booming student population. A new high school was built in three phases during the 1950s beside Groveport School.
The first phase was the construction of a combined gym and auditorium. The gym was the largest high school gym in Franklin County when it was built and included a massive theater stage at its southern end. An interesting feature of the stage is that beneath its floorboards is a compartment that stored metal folding chairs on racks that could be pulled out and set up on the basketball floor to serve as the audience seating area for the stage.
While impressive in size, this stage suffers from poor acoustics because of the cavernous, echoing nature of the gym.
However, this large stage has had its share of exciting performances including music concerts (I remember my sister performing there in Groveport Madison Cruiser band concerts), some stage plays, award presentations (my kindergarten graduation ceremony was held there!), and as seating for basketball games.
The stage is still in use at Middle School Central and its rear wall is adorned with a painting of John S. Rarey and Cruiser that once hung in the now demolished South Hamilton Road high school.
New high school
The current Groveport Madison High School auditorium was built in 2018. It is a state of the art facility, with wonderful sight lines and fine acoustics. It is large, but still has an intimate feel for the audience and performers. It also embraces all of the modern technological advancements that enhance performances.
The 600 seat auditorium has an orchestra pit with wheelchair lift; acoustic panels and baffles to enhance sound performance; sound, lighting, and projection control center; scene shop, dressing rooms, and drama classroom; and a catwalk to access theatrical lighting and rigging.
It is a performance venue with a long, rich life ahead of it and it joins the list of fine auditoriums that have thrived in Groveport for 146 years.