Group Hopes Theater Can Remain in Ministry

by Jason Collum

(AgapePress) For almost 30 years, Towne and Country Theater has served the families of quaint Norwalk, Ohio, and surrounding communities by giving them a place where they know the entertainment they get won't come at the cost of their principles.

Since 1974, Towne and Country Players, Inc., and executive director Ron Koerper have built a ministry around showing only movies and performing only plays in the theater that have positive messages and glorify God.

Koerper and the group want to see that tradition continue, and are looking for just the right person or people to make that happen. The theater building is for sale, but there are restrictions on the sale. "It is for sale, and maybe there's a Christian or Christian group who wants to take over an organization that's ministry oriented," Koerper said.

Keeping the building in the service of God seems only right since that's been the mission of the board since they took the keys to it on January 1, 1974. The events leading to that day, and this day, make for quite a tale.

'God Calls You Where You Are'

A non-profit organization, Towne and Country Players, Inc., was launched in 1966 in an elementary school as a theatrical group founded to provide funding for elementary students to have music books in school. They left the school after five years and built a facility, but were kicked out by the property owner. An error in the paper work allowed the property owner to file suit and claim the building. That event turned out to be a blessing, Koerper said.

"[The property owner] didn't like what we were putting on," Koerper said. "We were putting on plays like The Sound of Music, and he wanted more country music, or something else. Because of the glitch in the contract he was able to file suit to take the property back. It's funny because at the time we were doing the play Fiddler on the Roof, where the cast was run out of Russia.

"At the time we were run out of the building, we were having a lot of success," Koerper said. "It was during that time a 17-year-old boy who was in the play Fiddler on the Roof led me to the Lord one night at my house."

As Koerper grew in his Christian walk, he began desiring to leave the entertainment business. "I told the kid, 'I think I want to get out of the theater,'" Koerper said, "but he said, 'No, God calls you where you are. Hang in there and see what happens.'"

Koerper visited the church where the 17-year-old went, and soon became involved with the church's music ministry.

"A man came and saw one of our productions, and fell in love with our children's theater group," Koerper said. At the time, they discovered that Norwalk's only theater was coming up for sale. Ironically, it was showing the movie Fiddler on the Roof.

"We came over and looked at it, and went to lunch with the owners and got it," Koerper said. A benefactor of the group basically bought the building and donated it to the group.

Going to the Movies

In the building, the group inherited a movie business. In January 1974, the Rev. Billy Graham's organization released a film titled Time to Run, and it was the first movie shown in the theater after Towne and Country Players took over.

"We knew then we never wanted to show anything that was risque or off-color," Koerper said. "We don't show anything with gratuitous violence in it, because it's absolutely asinine," he said.

They have made an exception, though.

"We did show The Patriot [starring Mel Gibson] because we thought that was such a positive message for our country. It was an R-rated film, but it's the only R-rated film we've shown.

"We work hard to make sure whatever we have on the stage or on the screen is good," he said. "I stopped two shows because guests that rented the theater brought comedians that were off-color, and I went back stage and pulled the plug on them. Not that I'm a legalist or anything like that, but it's in the contract that we don't put up with that."

Based on Support

Because it's a charity, the group doesn't charge much for tickets to any of the plays or movies. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for children. "Since we're a non-profit organization, if it weren't for donations, we probably wouldn't be here," Koerper said. "We have supporters from the East Coast to the West Coast, and all the way down to Florida.

The theater building is up for sale, and it has been for several years. The organization itself will continue to operate.

The theater, built as the Schine Theater in 1941, has a full stage and an orchestra pit that seats 25. With a balcony, it seats almost 1,000. It also has a new organ that comes up out of the floor on an elevator. It was built to New York City building codes, and has about 40 seats that are wired for headsets for the hearing impaired. The murals painted on the walls were done by a New York studio. And, according to Koerper, it has the biggest marquee in the state of Ohio. But all this doesn't mean it's perfect.

"It needs some work, because we came on hard times," Koerper said. "We had it sold, and the guy came in and put everything in here but porn. He put Titanic in here and let underage kids in to see it. He was also selling beer in here. We were very disappointed, so we got the building back."

Jason Collum is a staff writer for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. This article appeared in the July 2003 issue. The theater described in this article is on State Route 61, which is Main Street in Norwalk. Anyone interested in buying the building and continuing the ministry can call Koerper at 419-668-1641

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