BERLIN — Seeing the need and having the wherewithal to fill that need, a pair of Holmes County entrepreneurs stepped outside of their comfort zone and went about developing a venue for evening entertainment for the numerous tourists coming to Holmes County.
In response to constant requests to provide visitors with something to do in the evenings after all the stores have shut down for the night, Dutchman Hospitality Group decided to try something new.
Specializing in hospitality with award-winning hotels, as well as some of the area’s top family-style restaurants, DHG decided to enter into the entertainment industry.
DHG public relations specialist Vicki VanNatta says when company President Mike Palmer came to Dutchman Hospitality more than 11 years ago, he brought not only business acumen; he brought hopes and dreams. Having been involved in the start-up of a live theater in Shipshewana, Indiana, Palmer saw the possibilities of what live theater could bring to Ohio’s Amish Country.
"He knew guests at area inns, including our own Carlisle Inns, often asked ‘What can we do this evening after the shops close?’ Unfortunately, if you were not inclined to sit on the porch and relax, play games, or go to bed early, there were few evening entertainment options in the surrounding area," VanNatta said. "But Palmer knew live theater was a possible solution to the feeling of ‘nothing to do in the evening.’
"He also knew the immense amount of planning, preparation and costs involved in such an undertaking," she continued.
That is why, in Palmer’s words, Dutchman Hospitality Group decided to ‘dip their toe in the water’ of live theater.
"Beginning in 2012, DHG created a small theater-in-the-round venue within the conference center of our Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek," VanNatta said. "The created space accommodated 187 guests who were literally within inches of the cast of characters as the producer of the shows, Blue Gate Musicals from Nashville, Tennessee, adapted their live musical productions to theater-in-the-round.
"It was a great run of five years in the small, intimate setting, but plans were underway to build a state-of-the-art, 500-seat theater," she continued. "Those plans became reality when the Ohio Star Theater at Dutch Valley was built, opening its doors April 1, 2017 for a sold-out performance of Guy Penrod."
The first year in the new theater featured musical concerts and a series of four live musicals.
The seventh season began Jan. 20 with a concert by Sidewalk Prophets, followed by the Jan. 27 performance by the Kingsmen Quartet. The 2018 schedule includes over 20 concerts and four live musicals. The musicals run from April 24 until Dec. 29 with the concerts interspersed throughout the season.
"Now, when someone asks if there is anything to do in the evening after the shops close you can confidently tell them to check the schedule at www.OhioStarTheater.com," VanNatta added. "The Broadway-caliber musicals and live musical concerts will add a new dimension to their visit to Amish Country."
Amish County Theater getting new home
About the same time in 2012, the Conn family, Mike and his sons Jeff and eventually Braden, decided they would try to put together a variety show to entertain folks on their visits to Holmes County. And Amish Country Theater was born.
They performed in the old Amish Country Flea Market, sharing space with other industries. They developed a delightful program that became a big hit, earning a top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.
"We always enjoyed theater productions and things like that, and got together with some people who enjoyed comedy and other things," Braden Conn said. "The first year was tough. It took some time to get established, and we were in a space that was a little bit harder to find.
"People didn’t know what to expect, and establishing credibility was a bit of a challenge," he continued.
But it took only a visit to one of the performances to see they were providing quality entertainment aimed at the entire family.
Nationally acclaimed ventriloquist Ken Groves, whose comedy has taken him all around the world, including 14 national television appearances, is a featured artist.
Comedian Lynyrd, a spotlight-stealing country bumpkin, who’s as unpredictable as an Ohio spring, is another regular. The famous Amish comedy trio, The Beachys and Fannie Mae, perform parody songs and jokes about farm living to keep audiences entertained.
With the success of several shows a week, Amish Country Theater has outgrown its original home and is in the process of buiding a new home.
Scheduled to open this May, the Berlin Encore Hotel & Suites is a brand-new, 81-room hotel in Berlin, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country.
The new hotel will feature an inspiring 20-foot-high atrium-style lobby complete with soft seating, rustic decor, exposed beams, fireplaces and plenty of room to relax and enjoy live music and entertainment in the lobby.
The hotel itself will stand seven stories with unmistakable curb appeal, guest rooms, luxury suites and a gorgeous countryside view.
Part of the complex will be the new Amish Country Theater, a state-of-the-art, 24,000-square-foot theater that holds 600. The sloped floor will seat 450 with approximately 150 seats in the balconey.
An event center is also part of the complex. It will host wedding receptions and other large gatherings.
— A new nonprofit community theater —
A nonprofit theater opened in Berlin last fall, featuring some hometown talent that has performed nationally, but has returned to their roots.
Village Hall is the name of the new theater in The Old Mill on the Market Street square at 4857 E. Main St., Berlin.
Award-winning Chicago playwright Jay Torrence has undertaken the venture in Berlin, enjoying a revival of an old skit, Corned Beef and Cabbage, last fall.
"In 1997, I was just out of college and my brother and I started making these shows, Corned Beef and Cabbage," Torrence said. "They were fun comedy skits we were writing and directing and performing them for about four years.
"We built up a pretty big audience following," he continued. "It was really fun. Our church gave us rehearsal space in their youth room."
They rehearsed and held shows there when they were starting out, but eventually outgrew it and rented the auditorium at Hiland High School.
"We performed in a drama competition in Colorado at Estes Park in front of 4,000 people, and we won," Torrence said. "It was exciting. Plus, we were getting our writing and acting chops honed here.
"Then I got hired to write and perform in Chicago, and Nate and his wife took the leap for Hollywood," he added. But eventually they headed back home to Holmes County.
Reporter Kevin Lynch can be reached at email@example.com.
Holmes County Nightlife
Inspiration? About 10 years ago, people who hosted some of the many tourists who come to Holmes County realized not everyone comes to the area to relax and get away. Many visitors wanted an evening of entertainment after a long day of souvenir shopping and traipsing through Amish Country.
How is it evolving? The evening entertainment need was answered by a couple of options. Amish Country Theater opened with its wholesome family-friendly variety shows, while Ohio Star Theater provided family-oriented musicals and dramas. Both have enjoyed great levels of success.