The Art of Engagement, Part 3: Great Lakes Theater

After I moved to Cleveland, the first theatre company I fell in love with was Great Lakes Theater at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna Theatre.

Providing a nice complement to Cleveland Play House’s contemporary plays, GLT most often focuses on classic theatre – having its roots in Shakespeare when John Lithgow’s father helped found it 50 years ago.

After taking a slight break last week from the series, I’m happy to return with Part 3 of the Art of Engagement by focusing on Great Lakes Theater’s audience engagement programs.

What initially endeared me to Great Lakes was their emphasis on enhancing the typical theatre-going experience by making it more accessible and social.

The Hanna Theater after Great Lakes Theater's renovations

At GLT, access to its artists and production process starts as soon as you arrive at the theatre – even before the curtain rises.  After helming the renovation of a completely reimagined Hanna Theatre in 2008, Great Lakes Theater instituted an “Arrive Early, Stay Late” program.

Before every performance, the Hanna opens its doors ninety minutes early allowing guests to observe the complete pre-show preparation process of GLT’s actors and technical staff.

Elements traditionally hidden from audiences such as stage combat rehearsals, dance calls, prop/scenic pre-sets, technical cue rehearsals and actor warm-ups are conducted in full view of patrons, offering GLT audiences an unprecedented glimpse into the theatrical process.

And because theatre has always been a social experience, the Hanna stays open after the show so guests can hang out at the in-theatre bar, meet other audience members and discuss the show.

Audiences of GLT's spring productions Romeo & Juliet (pictured), The Mousetrap and Sondheim on Sondheim will have a variety of Experience Enhancement programs to enjoy and enrich their time at the Hanna.

Throughout each production, Great Lakes Theater also offers an Experience Enhancement Series, with a variety of pre and post show programming that highlights the Hanna’s unique amenities and continues GLT’s mission of providing extraordinary access to Great Lakes artists:

  • Salon Thursdays feature an engaging pre-show discussion/presentation beginning one hour before curtain with a Great Lakes Theater artist.
  • Happy Hour Fridays afford audience members the opportunity to gather and socialize at the Hanna’s bar and lounge immediately after work with an assortment of small bites and beverages.
  • Nightcap Night Saturdays are designed to encourage audience members to stay after the evening performance and enjoy entertainment hand-selected by the director of programming for Cleveland’s landmark Nighttown.
  • Ice Cream Social Sundays offer guests the opportunity to enjoy a London theatre tradition for half-price.  Food and drinks are sold and allowed inside of the Hanna for every performance, but on Sundays, ice cream is discounted.
  • Director’s Nights feature lively pre-show discussions with GLT’s Producing Artistic Director, Charles Fee, and the director of each production before preview performances.
  • Playnotes Pre-Show Discussions provide patrons with illuminating introductions to the content and history of each play in GLT’s season presented by a guest scholar before Saturday matinee performances.

In addition to these offerings, GLT will be bringing back its Classics & Conversations Series during its runs of The Mousetrap and Romeo and Juliet this Spring.

On Friday, March 23, “Cleveland’s favorite [mystery] writer” Les Roberts will present a pre-show conversation called “Mysteries Solved” before that evening’s performance of Agatha Christie’s iconic murder mystery.

And on Friday, April 27, prior to R&J, their pre-show discussion “What’s Love Got To do With It?” explores the science behind “attraction.”

Behind many of these programs is Great Lakes Theater’s Audience Engagement Manager Chris Fornadel. Fornadel is responsible not just for coordinating pre- and post-show special events, but also arranging behind-the-scenes tours and working with visitors to create unique experiences based on their requests. He can be contacted here.

Exclusive access to each production's artistic process can be found on GLT's website, blog and social media channels. Pictured here: their Fall production of The Taming of the Shrew.

What happens inside the walls of the Hanna is only half of Great Lakes Theater’s audience enrichment programs.

Before you even visit the theatre, you can experience a lot about a production on the GLT website. offers comprehensive background info about each of its productions, including video features, audio clips, cast and production team bios and behind the scenes access to the creative process. Although the information for their Spring Shows will be up soon, you can check out previous productions online such as The Taming of the Shrew.

GLT’s social media channels also offer a number of ways to connect directly with their productions.  On their blog, you can find backstage photos and insight directly from the actors and production crew (sometimes even written by the artists themselves). Audience members can likewise access exclusive information and share their input on Facebook, @GLTFCleveland and their Youtube channel.

Great Lakes Theater is even coming to a Northeast Ohio neighborhood near you with a special audience engagement opportunity:  FREE THEATER!

Every season, GLT presents a free touring production that visits nearly two dozen neighborhood venues throughout northeast Ohio to kick off their annual series of Surround outreach programming. This season, in conjunction with The Mousetrap, the Outreach Tour features a world premiere adaptation by David Hansen of Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Feb. 4 - March 7, catch a free performance of GLT's Outreach Tour Production - The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

The twists and turns of Detective Hercule Poirot’s very first mystery will premiere Feb. 14 and tour until March 7.  The production will reach audiences from Cleveland Heights to Akron, Cuyahoga Falls and Oberlin.   These performances are all open to the public (arrive early since you can’t reserve tickets) and they’re FREE (I can’t emphasize enough how awesome that is)!

It’s a great example of how audience engagement doesn’t need to take place inside of the theatre and emphasizes GLT’s goal for audience accessibility.

If you haven’t experienced Great Lakes Theater yet, this Spring is an excellent time to start. Dates, times and locations for the Outreach Tour can be found here. And check out The Mousetrap, Romeo and Juliet, and Sondheim on Sondheim‘s performance calendars for the full selection of Experience Enhancement programming.


Want to learn about other Cleveland theatres’ audience engagement offerings? Next week is part 4 and the conclusion – a look at Cleveland Public Theatre. In the meantime, read parts 1 and 2 below:

2 thoughts on “The Art of Engagement, Part 3: Great Lakes Theater

  1. Pingback: The Art of Engagement, Part 4: Cleveland Public Theatre « Clue Into Cleveland

  2. Pingback: Clue Into Cleveland: Great Lakes Theater's Blithe Spirit

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