Theater construction technology has come a long way since the Marx Theatre opened in Cincinnati in 1968. The theater was the oldest un-renovated mainstage of any theater in the country and had served generations of city residents.

In March, a new $50 million, 62,000 square-foot theater replaced the Marx at the Playhouse in the Park. “Moe and Jack’s Place – The Rouse Theatre” offers greater flexibility, comfort and accessibility, better sightlines and acoustics while improving the timeworn Marx Theatre's intimacy. It also includes the latest and greatest in “stage” technology. 

“The old Marx Theatre was built at a time when the focus was almost entirely on the actor,” said Blake Robison, the long-time producing artistic director, in an interview with the architectural firm BHDP that designed the new venue. “So that theater was specifically designed to preclude [using] scenery on stage.”

One of the features of the new theater is acoustical smoke vents; the vents prevent noise intrusion and, like many other elements in the project, were unavailable when the Marx Theatre opened more than 50 years earlier.

acoustical smoke vents from BILCO

Five acoustical smoke vents from BILCO were included in a new theater in the Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati.

Quiet, Please

Many theaters built over the past few years have included acoustical smoke vents, which guard against noise intrusion. They also include the advantages of standard smoke vents, which assist firefighters in bringing a fire under control by removing smoke, heat and gases from a burning building. 

Acoustical smoke vents, however, were unavailable when many older theaters were constructed. Standard smoke vents were not introduced until the 1950s. 

Architects from BHDP specified five acoustical smoke vents made by BILCO, the manufacturer of specialty access products. The 5-foot x 5-foot acoustical smoke vents have industry-high STC-50, OITC-46 and ISO 140-18 ratings. The OITC rating is especially critical for theaters, as it guards against low-frequency sounds such as vehicular traffic and airplane noise. STC ratings guard against internal background noise, such as voices. 

“The architect selected the BILCO product based on the product features and the requirements for this application,’’ said Todd Wright, Senior Project Manager for Messer Construction Company, the general contractor for the project. 

Three BILCO thermally broken roof hatches were also included in the project. The 2-foot, 6-inch x 2’-6 and 3’ x 5’ hatches were also included to allow access to stage equipment from the roof. The thermally broken hatches, which include three inches of concealed polyisocyanurate insulation, have become especially popular in the past few years as building owners look to curb energy costs.

Marx Theater Interior

The new theater offers greater flexibility and improves comfort and accessibility, making for a far nicer experience for patrons.

All-Around Improvements

The new theater embraces the technological advantages that have shaped theater construction in the past half-century. One of the highlights is a new “fly gallery,” essentially a tower over the stage that allows for hundreds of new set design options. 

A new thrust stage, which extends into the audience on three sides, adds intimacy to the theater, incorporating additional state-of-the-art technology. 

“The level of stage technology alone far surpasses what Playhouse audiences have become accustomed to over the past 62 years,’’ Robison said. “It’s literally a game-changer for us.”

Actors will enjoy working in new rehearsal halls that match the size and shape of the new stage, increased backstage area to accommodate larger sets and casts, and upgrades to the costume shop, dressing rooms and green room. 

Patrons will enter through an open lobby with improved entrances and exits, increased accessibility and more amenities, including a lobby, bar and dining area to visit before and after the shows. What the venue adds in comfort and style comes at a slight trade-off in capacity, but not by much: The new theater includes 540 seats while the Marx Theatre had 626. 

“There’s so much that we’re going to be able to do in this new space that was not possible in the old one,’’ Robison said. “First of all, this stage house is built on the spec of a traditional Broadway theater, which is what 90 percent of the theaters in America are built as; so, we can create something in Cincinnati and then send it out to the rest of the country and the entire production can transfer [since the stage] is a perfect match.”

History Lesson

Maex Theater

What and where
A new theater, Moe and Jack’s Place – The Rouse Theatre, opened in March 2023 at the Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati.

The details
The $50 million, 62,000 square-foot project was designed by BHDP Architecture and built by Messer Construction. Construction began in 2020.

The 540-seat theater replaces the 626-seat Marx Theatre at Eden Park. The Marx Theatre opened in 1968 and lacked the technological sophistication of today’s performing arts venues. The new theater offers greater flexibility, improved comfort and better acoustics.

Acoustical smoke vents
Five acoustical smoke vents from BILCO were included in the project. The smoke vents limit exterior noise intrusion. Three thermally broken BILCO roof hatches were also included in the project.

Did you know?
The first production in the new theater was “A Chorus Line” and included the largest ensemble cast in the Playhouse’s history.

The history of the Playhouse in the Park in Cincinnati reaches back even before the Marx Theatre. The first theater in the city’s Eden Park location was in a shelter house, opened in 1959 and later converted to a 166-seat theater in 1960. Audiences grew over time which led to the construction of the Marx Theatre. 

Artists who have performed in Cincinnati include industry stars including Henry Winkler, Cicely Tyson, Anthony Perkins and Charlotte Rae. Eden Park, where the Playhouse is located, is a popular destination that overlooks the Ohio River from multiple vantage points. 

The Cincinnati Art Museum and Krohn Conservatory are in the park, which is one of the most popular areas among city residents.

A new theater had been a long-time goal, but BHDP and the theater wanted to ensure the project was done properly. Planning started in 2018, and construction began in 2020. When the doors swung open in March, the Cincinnati community celebrated; arts are revered in all metropolitan communities, and theaters are integral to the cultural landscape. 

“The theater is going to be around for a long time,” said Tom Arends, design leader and partner at BHDP. “We wanted to be able to make sure that we could adapt to whatever changes are in the theater of the next 50 years. So, flexibility is built in as one of our key drivers. We recognize that we want to cater to a multi-generational audience, so we often say from grandchildren to grandparents. We want to [ensure] an experience and something wonderful for everybody.”