ITHACA, N.Y. — After being nomadic for more than a decade, the youth theater company Running to Places is planning to put down roots with a permanent location — the Shops at Ithaca Mall.
Running to Places or R2P is made up of students in grades 6 through 12 who represent all areas of areas Tompkins County, and beyond. There are typically up to 150 students per season, and more working behind the scenes. It was founded in 2007 by Joey Steinhagen.
The name of the theater company was a literal representation of how they have operated over the years. After traveling all over the county and spending so much time and energy tracking down venues for shows, Steinhagen said having a home for the theater will give them more time to spend working with kids. But, the name still has meaning for the connections made between the kids who participate.
“That’s the most meaningful part of what Running to Places has always been, is kids meeting friends they never would have had the opportunity to meet,” Steinhagen said.
The company’s new home will be at the Shops at Ithaca Mall in Lansing, occupying a portion of the original multiplex movie theaters still there that are hidden between Best Buy and the former Sears entrance.
The auditorium will have 323 seats, as well as a rehearsal room, scene shop, costume storage area, dressing rooms, box office and business office.
The mall is a great location, Steinhagen said, because it is easily accessible and safe. There is free parking and several bus lines that serve the mall. Since they will be renovating an old theater, it already has good elements from the past they can use like a projection booth, sloped floors, sprinklers and bathrooms.
In a time when malls and department stores are struggling to drive traffic, having a new, live-action theater could bring more of the community up to the mall. “We think we can be part of revitalization,” Steinhagen said.
To pay for the necessary renovations, R2P has launched a capital campaign to raise $150,000 by the end of the summer. So far, they have already raised more than $93,000. Jerry Dietz, owner of C.S.P. Management and Rachel Lampert, artistic director emerita for the Kitchen Theatre are acting as advisers for the campaign.
In addition to Steinhagen directing, Running to Places has a dedicated team who works behind the scenes. To design and build sets are Deborah Drew and Jim Drew, respectively. They also have a resident costume designer Liz Woods and a music director who is also an alumnus of R2P, Jeremy Platter.
Theater renovations are scheduled to begin Sept. 1, with the new season beginning Dec. 1. A full season of favorite shows has been scheduled for next season, including “Newsies,” “Annie,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’” in collaboration with Circus Culture, and “Mamma Mia.”
When picking shows for the season, Steinhagen said they try to pick shows where they can have a lot of kids on stage. Running to Places is free to join and they include everyone who wants to join. He said it’s also important that they choose musicals that tell the stories of everyone in the community.
“We want to send a message that everyone in the community is welcome,” Steinhagen said. “Any kid can walk into one of our shows and see themselves reflected onstage.”
Running to Places includes any kids who want to join because Steinhagen said in his experience, he has come to see theater as a powerful tool for youth development. Being part of a production teaches youth how to work well under deadline and pressure, how to take direction and be a part of a team.
“The purpose of Running to Places is not the shows, what we really exist to do is help raise the children of our community and help them become the best versions of themselves,” Steinhagen said.
Featured image: R2P founder and artistic director Joey Steinhagen (right) shares the plan for a permanent home with the kids and their families (Provided by R2P)