Shining a spotlight on Worthington's theater community

All the world's a stage, and Worthington is no exception. Residents have long unleashed their creativity and entertained the public by performing in classic plays, ballets and high school theater productions. It's appropriate, then, that in our September exhibit, theatrics and performances take center stage.

The 1800s saw an active love of local performances. Worthington Memory's collection holds playbills from the 1858 Worthington Thespian Association, which list a series of comedies that could be enjoyed during the theater season. By the 1890s, a Worthington general store hosted a number of plays, as the Lewis-Bishop General Store offered a meeting hall with a full stage on its second level.

School plays also have a prominent place in the Worthington Memory archive, with playbills and performance publicity making many appearances in the collection. Through the years, drama teachers have helped students flex their creative muscles with plays giving them an opportunity to enjoy the spotlight. One "Worthington Suburbia News" article points to the humble beginnings of Worthington Schools' theater department, with kids rehearsing in hallways and supplying their own props, before the 1960s brought the establishment of a dedicated theater course that grew and flourished. Worthington Memory's online collection of school theater memorabilia features fun, decorative playbills as well as quirky promotional efforts, including the newspaper headline "Satan slugs a homer on stage," referring to a 1999 performance of the musical "Damn Yankees."

School theater experience has set the stage for many local students' careers. Several residents returned to Worthington to teach theater or help with school productions, while others went on to pursue performance art outside their hometown. Notably, Worthington High School alumni J.K. Simmons and Jack Plotnick have appeared on television and movie screens across the country, with Simmons earning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Plotnick appearing in several TV shows as well as making a lauded drag appearance in "Girls Will Be Girls." Yet another former Worthington student who went on to receive acclaim in the theater world was Brian Burgess Clark, who became a playwright and a winner of the New Voice in American Theater award, then returned to Worthington to lead a playwriting workshop for teens. Clark was also commissioned to write the play "The Scioto Company" about the founding of Worthington for the city's bicentennial in 2003. The world premiere of the play was directed by Bronwynn Hopton, theater director for Thomas Worthington High School, and featured TWHS theater alumni in the cast and crew.

Bronwynn Hopton is a name well-known to students in the Worthington theater community. In 1988, she founded the Thomas Worthington High School Theatre Repertory, which this year entered its 34th season. Countless TWHS alumni cite her influence for their love of theater, or even their professional success in the field. An October 24, 2010 "Columbus Dispatch" article quotes her as saying, "Theater is not just a superfluous after-school event, but something we study that deserves the same focus as science, math or history. " Hopton retired in 2013 after teaching drama for four decades at TWHS. Her first name graces the Bronwynn Theatre at the McConnell Arts Center.

Yet another outlet for local performers was the Worthington Civic Ballet (WCB) and Youtheatre, which formed in 1967. Barbara Burrows directed the WCB for 40 years, guiding performers and choreographing productions that entertained the people of Worthington and beyond. The group performed dances from "Cinderella," "The Wiz" and more, having opportunities to share their shows in spring concerts and even performing at the Ohio Theatre.

The city's theatrical history has been a long, even somewhat star-studded, one. We hope you've enjoyed seeing Worthington's theater community in the spotlight!