Inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, July 30, 2016.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Terry Stump. At this point in the evening we change from a restaurant to a theatre and due to Ohio fire laws we ask that you do not smoke during the performance but wait for one of the intermissions. Immediately following the show, the cast will be in the lobby to greet you on your way home. And now it is with a great deal of pride and for your pleasure La Comedia Dinner Theatre proudly presents the Induction of Joe and Marilyn Mitchell into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame.
A preshow announcement something like that was used over 41 years ago in January of 1975, when Joe and Marilyn Mitchell at the young age of 27 opened La Comedia Dinner Theatre. After 3 years of planning and research to find the perfect location that would best be served by live theater in the US, they decided on the Miami Valley. Joe and Marilyn have been selected for induction into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame in recognition of bringing La Comedia Dinner Theatre to the Miami Valley and the Dayton area.
Joe's introduction to theatre began in Kentucky when he was cast as Rabbit #3 in the Second Grade. He went on to get his Undergraduate Degree from St. Andrews College and his Graduate Degree from Florida State. After college he did many things including teaching high school in Florida, designing the set for the 1974 film Throw Out the Anchor, starring Dina Merrill and Richard Ecan, (he's even listed in the International Movie Data Base) and he did outdoor theatre at the famous Cherokee drama Unto Those Hills in North Carolina.
Marilyn is a true Southern Belle from South Carolina; warm, enchanting, polite, and respectful. She is a graduate of Winthrop University with an Art major and a French minor. She went on to teach art from pre-school to high school. Joe and Marilyn were married in 1968 and have one son, Bok, who still lives in Centerville and owns his own sign company.
As Producer/Owners of La Comedia they were both very "hands-on" with the day-to-day operations of the theatre. Joe was constantly working with on projects that would enhance the audience's experience. He even climbed I-beams to hang balloon bags for the New Year's Eve celebration. One year when one of them didn't trip on cue, he scampered up the beam and manually dropped the balloons over the crowd below; luckily Marilyn didn't see him up there because she was preoccupied in the kitchen scrambling approximately 12 hundred eggs for the Breakfast Brunch later that evening. To this day she still has "yellow nightmares."
Marilyn was everywhere in the theatre. She coordinated costume and make-up designs for productions, designed all the program covers and marketing graphics, planned the menus for the different shows, and even helped me paint scenery and make specialty props.
They also did community outreach by providing free speaker bureaus to schools, churches, and social organizations on any topic relating to theatre, including tours and workshops for scout troops. They allowed other theatres to borrow props and costumes and even worked closely with the Sinclair Theatre Department chair Dr. Robert MacClennan to bring 3 of their productions to La Comedia so the students could have a professional experience and learn how to tour a production.
I'm not saying Joe as a producer was cheap, let's just say he was ahead of his time when it came to recycling. For a production of The Odd Couple the director insisted on opening a real beer at the end of Act I for the visual impact and the sound effect. Knowing there would be about 50 performances, Joe crunched the numbers and was horrified at the thought of the lost revenue...so he stationed a waiter off stage left, who grabbed that just opened (and untouched) beer and ran it to the bar to be the first one served at intermission.
Joe's piloting skills were put to good use when our Sandy in the musical Annie slipped out of his collar on a potty break, and Joe had to coordinate an air-to-ground search to locate him. Then we needed a hound dog for a production of No Time for Sergeants. So instead of using a real dog, Marilyn created a realistic looking soft sculpture of a sleeping dog that fooled many of our audience members, and he is still sleeping today in their bedroom.
La Comedia was also a proving ground for talent, both in performance and technical theatre. With casts that blended New York actors with local talent, many area performers were on the La Comedia stage including Terry Lupp (and her two sons Andy and KC), Joan Harrah, Scott Stoney, Kevin Moore and many, many others. Early in his career, the highly-acclaimed actor John Goodman played Thomas Jefferson in their production of 1776, and was in the ensemble cast of Godspell. John even worked as a cocktail waiter for shows when he wasn't on stage.
The technicians, including myself, had great experiences working on both large scale musicals and small intimate comedies. We even had a chance to work with nationally known performers such as Helen Reddy, Phyllis Diller, Doc Severinsen, and even the Amazing Kreskin when the Mitchells brought them in for special performances.
Joe had an open door policy so if anyone had an issue they could come talk to him; he was fair and understanding. He didn't even blink an eye when one of the out-of-town performers came into his office with a broken vacuum sweeper, slammed it on the floor and said: "I can suck harder than that thing!" ... Joe gave them a new sweeper.
During its existence, it is estimated La Comedia has presented over 325 productions, had 15,000 performances, employed over 6,000 actors and theatre artists, plus hundreds of management and restaurant employees and entertained nearly 6 million patrons. Joe and Marilyn served as co-producers and owners until they sold the theatre in 1987, and they have been sorely missed.
The Mitchell's passion for providing a quality product, fair treatment of all employees, and professionalism in every aspect of the business helped make La Comedia Dinner Theater a popular and well-respected venue for many years. The legacy they created still exists to this day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the best bosses I ever had and longtime friends, I give you the newest inductees into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame, Joe and Marilyn Mitchell.
Thank you Terry... Thanks Chuck for your assistance… Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame… Selection Committee… Board of Directors … On behalf of La Comedia Dinner Theatre and our highly dedicated employees...
Marilyn and I are truly honored and accept this wonderful tribute. With us tonight is our son, Bok, and his wife, Christy. Bok started out at age 7 keeping the candy machine filled at La Comedia and went on to playing base in the orchestra for several of our productions.
Also here is Mary Roush and her husband, Norm. Mary was Group Sales Director for about 35 years and deserves much credit for La Comedia’s on-going success. (Mary and Norm are celebrating their wedding anniversary today ... #50 ... congratulations!)
Up until 1971, Marilyn and I didn’t even know what a "dinner theatre" was -- until we attended Alhambra DT, in Jacksonville, FL. We had a fun evening and came away saying "Hmmm... we could do that!" We spent 3 years planning -- and researched the entire country for a location, narrowing it down to 5 cities before selecting the Dayton area.
Next we needed a building -- and at first considered renovation. We looked at an old Methodist church near the Oregon District, and also for sale: the Victory Theatre building. But in the 70s, suburbia was more in vogue, so we designed and built our 18,000 square foot facility in Springboro, which opened January 28, 1975.
A building of course is only a vessel -- It’s what we all put into each of our vessels that creates the magic of theatre, and the La Comedia vessel has certainly been blessed over the years with highly talented performers and artists and craftsmen -- some of whom came our way via Abe Bassett and Wright State -- thank you Abe -- and Bob MacClennan here at Sinclair -- thanks Mac.
You know, I am absolutely convinced there is no other group of people that is more fun and creative and dedicated than theatre people! And we were so fortunate to have such wonderful people from this area join our team to entertain our audiences. For example: theatre people like Joan Harrrah -- as a nun in SOM, Joannie could fly circles around Sally Fields! And Terry Lupp... 3 generations of Lupps have performed on the La Comedia stage, and we refer to them as The von Lupp Family! And our restaurant employees... business employees ... all hard working and so reliable.
We also had numerous marriages and unions that ignited through La Comedia, including Terry Stump, our talented scenic designer and "go-to" problem solver superman. We could not have done it without you, Terry. Thank You. And his wife, Darlene, who was my supercalifragilisticexpialidocious secretary... thank you, Darlene.
And what about our audiences? Who were they? Initially, many of our audience had never before seen live theatre. We had folks come in asking all kinds of questions including what movie is showing tonight? But Marilyn and I are convinced that over the years, our audiences became more and more "educated" or whatever term you want to use, and they became more and more comfortable attending live theatre. I feel certain many now attend Dayton area theatres with their grandchildren!
Once again, we sincerely Thank You for recognizing La Comedia, our second child -- Bok, you were always our fist! Marilyn and I were just two youngsters with a dream. We loved guiding our dream for the first 13 years, and we are happy and proud others have kept it alive to continue entertaining so many ... for 41 years and counting!
I don’t need to remind you what it takes to put something on the stage night-after-night. The time and sacrifices can all take their toll. We opened LC at age 27 ... and sold it 13 years later at age 70! One of Mark Twain’s quotes pretty much sums up our La Comedia experience in Dayton: "All you need in life is ignorance and confidence and then success is sure."
Mr. Twain did, however, leave out two additional ingredients that were necessary for La Comedia's success: One, my talented partner and wife of 48 years next month, Marilyn, who I love and appreciate, and two, our tremendously loyal employees. And many extremely dedicated theatrical folks such as YOU ... don’t ever stop!
Thank You, and Thank You Dayton, Ohio!
-- Joe Mitchell