LIMA — Two television producers from Los Angeles have purchased the historic Ohio Theatre, which will reopen as a professional dinner theater and piano bar in 2021.
Joe Correll and Michael Bouson, who founded his own improv and sketch comedy troupe in Nashville during the 1980s, purchased the theater after a year-long search for a place to revive their Avante Garage Dinner Theatre productions.
They decided to bring the dinner theatre company to Lima, Ohio, after unexpectedly falling in love with the community’s mix of urban, suburban and rural life and its arts scene.
“We were like, this is a community that will get behind this project,” Bouson said.
The producers have big plans for the Ohio Theatre too: live theatrical, dance and musical performances on the main stage; two bars—a piano bar on the main floor and speakeasy-style jazz bar upstairs; and a renovated Ohio Room that will be used as a rehearsal studio.
The menu will be elaborate too. Each dinner theatre production will have its own menu, featuring international cuisine not typically available in Lima, while the bars will serve portable foods that patrons can eat while wandering around the bar.
Work is already underway in anticipation of the first live production in the summer of 2021.
The Avante Garage started as a joint venture between Bouson, Correll and two others in 1992. The duo wrote, produced, directed and performed original musicals and plays in Nashville for about two years, and have since worked in New York City and Los Angeles. But Bouson and Correll started writing again several years ago, and have decided to give the Avante Garage another go.
While Bouson and Correll have decades of production experience and detailed plans for the theater, they want the venue and entertainment it offers to reflect Lima too. So, they’ll continue hosting concerts and renting the venue out for weddings, parties and banquets.
And to finance the operation, Bouson and Correll plan to form a nonprofit, Friends of the Ohio Theatre, to raise money for the renovation and preservation of the historic theater, which Bouson said will later be turned over to an independent board of directors.
“Our philosophy is that this theater doesn’t really belong to us, it belongs to the city of Lima,” Bouson said. “It’s been here for 100 years. We’re stewards of that to keep it going and hopefully take it up a step, but we’re counting on the community to be part of this.”