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ARTS & CULTURE

Sophie Albrecht, Magical Theatre Company

Fundraising Wand Revives the Magic

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ophie Albrecht has had many roles in her life: attorney, magistrate, mother and grandmother, among others. But the Magical Theatre Company in Barberton offered her a chance to try out for a new part: its fairy godmother. She got the job. Albrecht of Akron, along with Dennis Liddle of Barberton, led a $2 million fundraising campaign to renovate the theater company’s home, once known as The Park, built in 1919. Although it required far more than the wave of a wand and sparkle dust, the transformation of the theater is as dramatic as anything performed on its stage. “If it weren’t for Sophie’s hard work helping to lead the fundraising, we’d still be in the position of waiting for our dream to come true,” says Holly Barkdoll, who revived the failing troupe with husband, Dennis O’Connell, 23 years ago. The theater annually reaches more than 50,000 children in 23 counties. The mission was—and remains—to provide professional performances for children of all ages. While the shows have always been top-notch, the setting

was anything but, according to Albrecht, who first toured the theater as a board member of the Corbin Foundation. About three years ago, the company applied to the foundation for a grant, and Albrecht visited as part of the review process. “I was one of those people who wondered why they just didn’t move. I had real safety concerns for the children and for the members of the company,” says Albrecht. “I couldn’t sleep that night (after the tour); I kept thinking about what could happen.” Parents would direct their children not to drink anything before the shows so they wouldn’t have to use the dilapidated bathrooms with their rusty sinks and unreliable toilets, she said. The staff would turn lights on with a plastic wrench to avoid electrical shock. Performers changed in the basement behind bed sheets and under a crumbling cement ceiling. Albrecht contacted some of Barberton’s leaders about her safety worries, and they told her they had some concerns, too. The Barberton Community Foundation awarded a lead gift of a $750,000 matching grant to the cause. That’s when Albrecht began to work her

Rehabbed, intimate seating space is part of the magic. 6

Spirit of Philanthropy

magic, leading the way to meeting not only the match, but surpassing it to reach a $2 million goal in a matter of months. “Once that gift was in place, others realized we could really make this happen,” says Albrecht. “The enthusiasm began to grow, and others came on board.” The theater closed for renovation in Spring 2015 and re-opened in time for that year’s holiday season. The rehabbed theater includes cosmetic improvements such as teal and gold wallpaper and glossy woodwork, but it also has rehabbed bathrooms, steel rigging, changing rooms for cast members (under a solid ceiling) and an up-to-date electrical system. The marble ticket counter was salvaged, and in the course of moving it, workers found a 1919 Mercury dime. “That kind of history can’t be manufactured,” says Albrecht. “It’s part of the myth and mystery of Barberton, known to area residents as the Magic City.” And what was the first show put on in the renovated theater? Cinderella, of course. And the fairy godmother had a front row seat.—ME


Spirit of Philanthropy 2016-2017