Playhouse Square

Historic Theatre District

Choir of Men 15

Between February 1921 and November 1922, five opulent theaters opened along a stretch of Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. This area would become known as Playhouse Square. Like many theatres in the U.S., the venues of Playhouse Square began to experience pressure in the 1930's from the Great Depression and the rise of Hollywood. Further decline in attendance occurred in the 50's and 60's as people moved out to the suburbs. By 1969 four of the five theatres had closed.

During the 1970's a non-profit group was formed to try and preserve the theatres and hold off demolition. It was a slow process at first but eventually they raised $40 million and re-opened the Mimi Ohio theatre in 1982. By the end of the 80's the KeyBank State and Connor Palace Theatres were also reopened. During the 1990's the association re-opened the Hanna and Allen Theatres. The impact of the renovations to the city are immense and were the catalyst for Cleveland's vibrant downtown.

Today Playhouse Square is the largest performing arts center outside of New York City. It now operates 11 performance spaces and entertains more than 1 million patrons every year.

KeyBank State Theatre

State Theatre 4

KeyBank State Theatre is the largest venue operated by Playhouse Square. In 1979, as the theatre prepared for its reopening, new seating was installed with the same chair and row spacing it had when it opened in the 1920's. To save costs, modern backs with plastic rear panels were used during the renovation.

As the KeyBank State Theatre's 90th anniversary approached in 2016 it became clear it was time to upgrade this grand old theatre. The team at Playhouse Square assembled a team that included DLR Group (architect), Turner Construction and Irwin Seating to develop solutions that would not only resolve the aesthetic issues but more importantly improve the patron experience.

The biggest issue the theatre faced was the tight back-to-back spacing in the balcony and the negative impact it had on comfort. DLR and Turner devised a system to re-rake the balcony with the current structural support and footprint. A framework was constructed on top of the existing risers that brought the seating forward toward the front to the balcony and extended it up and back toward the rear wall. The results were better sightlines due to the higher risers and an increase in the back-to-back spacing from 32" to 36" which has had a substantial impact on comfort.

The framework and the plywood surfaces were cut off site on a CNC table to match each row's original camber and radius. To assist with noise suppression while patrons were walking on the new structure, the cavities were filled with a fiber-based sound absorption material.

The improvements made to the balcony resulted in a loss of seating capacity. In addition to the work done in the balcony, the main floor seating was also reconfigured. The seating area was brought closer to the stage & orchestra pit and extended back toward the rear wall. Even with increased back-to-back spacing additional seating was installed on the main floor which helped to offset some of the loss in the balcony.

The seating was also customized to help improve comfort. After exploring their options, the Playhouse Square team settled on Irwin Seating's New Amsterdam chair back with the No. 12 seat, the No. 142 Fulton historic cast aisle standards, No. 8 steel center standards and scrolled armrests. The standard height for the New Amsterdam chair is 36", to help provide additional back-to-back spacing Irwin provided the backs at a 34" height. In addition, the seats were installed with a full-fold return instead of the standard 3/4 fold. As you can see from the photos below, the results speak for themselves.

Interested in talking to us about how we can help with a seating upgrade for your venue?

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The Best Seat in the House

KeyBank State Theatre Seating Upgrade Project

Tom Einhouse Discusses the Benefits of the No. 12 Seat

Hear why the Playhouse Square chose the No. 12 seat for the KeyBank State Theatre and Connor Palace

Chair Selection & Row Spacing

Listen to Tom Einhouse & Fritz Owen discuss the way chair selection improved patron comfort

Connor Palace

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Once the work was completed in the KeyBank State Theatre it was time to upgrade the seating in the Connor Palace. The existing seating (shown right) was a fully upholstered back and steel seat that provided the staff with challenges when repairs were needed. Luckily the balcony design in the Connor Palace provided adequate back-to-back spacing and re-raking of that balcony was not needed.

Having already gone through the selection process for KeyBank State the team at Playhouse Square decided to use the same model and material selections in the Connor Palace. The one exception were the aisle end standards, Connor Palace was provided with No. 146 Rialto cast ends.

Using the same chair in both venues allowed Playhouse Square to consolidate attic stock.

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Interested in discussing an upgrade to your seating? We would love to come by to discuss your challenges and figure out a solution.