Exterior of Rabbit Run Theater in Madison (photo courtesy of Rabbit Run Theater)

This Ohio Barn Theater Preserves a Long-Running Tradition

One of a handful of historic Ohio venues of its kind, Rabbit Run Theater in Madison has been hosting summer stage shows since 1946.

Even at the height of their popularity during the mid-20th century, only about 200 barn theaters dotted America. Their numbers have continued to dwindle over the years, but Rabbit Run Theater in Madison is preserving the legacy of these unique establishments.

The Klump family once owned the farmland on which Rabbit Run Theater is situated, using it to raise animals such as horses, goats and rabbits. In 1940, siblings Rooney Klump and Will Klump Jr. formed a small group of actors, dubbed The Penny Players, who began performing in the barn. After World War II, the family reimagined the theater and renovated the barn to seat nearly 200 people. On July 3, 1946, Rabbit Run Theater opened with nine actors, running seasonally during the summer, a tradition that is carried on today.

“It’s very much a local treasure,” says Brint Learned, executive director of Rabbit Run Community Arts Association. “Once someone has discovered it, it becomes something they want to hold on to.”

Performance of “Anything Goes” at Rabbit Run Theater in Madison (photo courtesy of Rabbit Run Theater)
During the 1950s and ’60s, the theater began drawing bigger names. Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy acted in a production of “The Fourposter” at Rabbit Run in preparation for its Broadway debut, while the likes of Sandy Dennis, Charles Grodin and Dustin Hoffman performed at the theater before making their ways to the big screen. To accommodate the theater’s growing popularity, a stage house was added to increase the seating capacity to 300, making it a theater destination that rivaled others across the country.

After Madison became less of a summer resort and crowds thinned, the theater closed in 1967 and sat vacant for nearly 12 years. In 1979, concerned local residents formed a group called The Friends of Rabbit Run Theater that raised money to reopen the venue. Today, the theater offers four main-stage productions each summer, as well as youth productions and other programming.

“We live in a world where fewer and fewer people … have really been exposed to live theater,” Learned says. “Every year, we are able to introduce [them] to live theater, both from the viewpoint of being able to perform and being able to enjoy it as an audience member. They can enjoy that throughout their lives.”

5648 W. Chapel Rd., Madison 44057, 440/428-7092, rabbitrun.org