September 30, 2020
DEFINITION: Positive in attitude and full of energy and new ideas
Robidoux Resident Theatre (RRT) has brought the drama to St. Joseph for over 41 years on many stages throughout the community…but now downtown has a new scene that brings theatre productions, events, adaptive reuse, fantastic dining, and history together under one roof at the Ruby Theatre.
Known for wearing many hats RRT has been very busy with their major productions, dinner shows, and educational children’s programming. Five years ago their board and board president at the time Shaun Agnew had a dream for a new theatre as they found their growing programs stretched for time and bursting at the seams. In order to expand to meet the needs of the community RRT knew they needed to think big. So they named their 40th season “Ruby in the Rough” bringing attention to their capital campaign that would pave the way toward fulfilling their goal of the perfect downtown location. Finding the perfect location wasn’t easy but they took a chance on checking out the former synagogue at 10th and Messanie and immediately knew it was the perfect fit. Full of rooms for classes and storage plus a spacious basement, the synagogue featured a theatre style seating which already had the perfect ruby red upholstery. It was meant to be.
“It is not lost on us that this building is special and that only comes from taking a space that once had so much life in it and giving it new purpose and new life.” Lindsay Prawitz, Program Director
Of course, an adaptive reuse project transforming a synagogue into a full theatre experience was not just a simple costume change. This was a true test of their creativity and endurance as they worked to create a place to grow the St. Joseph artistic community while preserving the heritage of those who built and worshipped here before them. (Many details of the synagogue still remain including the Star of David on the metal handrails throughout the theatre)
It was important to RRT that the Ruby Theatre be at a downtown location, and the area of 10th and Messanie was well suited for a new business to take root. While it would have been easier to build a brand new theatre; the project would have been significantly more expensive and would not have the same revitalizing effect to the building and neighborhood. When asked about their philosophy on adaptive reuse Lindsay said, “It’s worth it to keep St. Joe alive; to keep these beautiful old buildings alive. It is not easy but no one said it would be. There is a special charm that comes with these old buildings that you cannot put a price tag on.”
The blood, sweat, and tears of many volunteers over the course of a year brought the theatre to life just in time for their first show. But there is more to be done…RRT is already working on plans to buildout the backstage area within the next year.
“We literally worked up until the first audience stepped foot into the theatre that Christmas two years ago. There was still wet paint on part of the ceiling at dinner that evening.” – Lindsay Prawitz, Program Director
Much like their creative use of resources to adapt and preserve the synagogue RRT relies on volunteers from all walks of life to create their shows and programs. This family of artists creates the unique experience that the patrons have come to expect at the Ruby Theatre.
From the minute that you walk into the door and are escorted to your delicious dinner by Gina’s Catering you know you will be well taken care of. The entire basement of the synagogue has been converted into a lovely space for a romantic dinner for two or laughs with a group of friends. After dinner you are whisked away to the plush ruby red seating of the theatre just in time for the show to begin. The hard work and talent of the actors, technicians, and artists shines through with every scene…the show is above and beyond what one might expect in a community theatre because of the dedication of everyone involved with each production.
“We have teachers, scientists, doctors, students of all ages, retired folk, labor workers, engineers and all types of people coming together to create theatre. None of the people on our stage or on our board outside of our two employees do this for a living, it’s all done because they love it.” – Lindsay Prawitz, Program Director
Like all non-profits during this unprecedented time the COVID-19 pandemic caused an immediate halt in their operations. Now that they are open again the Ruby Theatre is taking precautions to keep their patrons, staff, and actors safe through measures such as sanitization, face coverings, limiting capacity, and social distancing. Ensuring that the arts can continue to operate, even during times of worldwide crisis, is important…and there are many ways that you can support RRT and the Ruby Theatre but we recommend checking them out for yourself by purchasing tickets to an upcoming production. Tickets are available on the online box-office.
Donations to the community theatre are also accepted and encouraged.
Have a love for the theatre? Learn more about how to get involved and the children’s educational programs.
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A visit to the St. Joseph museums is … Quirky. Surprising. Curious. Impressive. Enlightening. And totally worth a day, or an afternoon, or a full weekend with the family.
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Real change in almost any environment happens from the inside out. And no one knows just how to create the kind of contagious change a community needs like the community members themselves. In St. Joseph, and many communities like it, a revolution is happening around this kind of grassroots-based leadership – and it’s only just begun.
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