Editor’s note: This is one story in a series about local businesses in the City of Fairborn. This feature puts a face to the names of those that have been part of the community for many years – some of those best-kept secrets.
FAIRBORN – Lights, Camera, Action!
That is what happened in 1921 when a building was turned into a silent movie theater called “The Midway ” before Fairborn was called Fairborn. The theatre included some talkies, but it wasn’t big enough so they moved the talkies to the bigger location, which was the Fairborn Theater on Broad Street and owned by Chakeres. Over the years, it was used by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base when it was called Fairborn Playhouse Community Theater, but it spent years often sitting vacant.
However, Don Campbell rented it in 1995 and that’s when it became the Actor’s Theatre.
Alie Varhola said Campbell and her husband Dennis Varhola had a traveling acting group, performing at dinner theaters and shows, but wanted a hometown theater. Campbell retired in 2002 and her husband took over directing and running the shows until he became ill and passed away two years ago. Varhola is thinking of selling the theater, but to someone who will take up where Campbell and her husband left off, keeping the performing arts dream of a theater right in town.
Zac Fenton is currently working on trying to get the life back into the Actor’s Theatre. His phone number is 937-860-0193, and email is firstname.lastname@example.org for anyone wishing for information regarding the support of the theater and its future. He has performed in New York, San Francisco and Oregon to name a few. He once had a studio in Yellow Springs, but decided after talking to Varhola that Actor’s Theatre is a great place to relocate, giving local talents a place to rehearse and practice. Fenton hopes to get shows and plays back as it was in earlier years.
Some of the shows performed there was the creation of the Hee Haw Show, as well as a pilot television show called Center Stage, which is a series that used the theater one night per week for a talent show that aired on local stations. The theatre is also used for the Little Mr. and Miss Fairborn contest hosted over the summer months. The plays held were about six to eight per year that ran for two weekends each Friday and Saturday night, in addition to a Sunday matinee.
One show called “Rehearsal for Murderer” was an attempt to get the support and involvement from the city for the Actor’s Theatre. The cast and crew were city employees from varying branches. The guys (Campbell and Dennis Varhola) would rehearse and put together the shows they created.
“Don and Dennis would take people who had always dreamed of being on stage and help them create their dreams, releasing their talents giving joy to others,” Varhola said.
The theater can seat 100 bodies and accommodate up to three wheelchairs. The lighting was upgraded in 2000 and the sound system is massive.
The theatre additionally includes a “happy ghost.”
“When the Base was checked out regarding rumors of aliens, they also came to see my husband Dennis about rumors of a ghost,” Varhola said.
They set up projection, sensors, cameras and other equipment upstairs in the theater for three days to investigate.
“They showed me blurring in their sensors of something that was ghost like,” she said. “The rumor was a projection man during the silent movies showing fell and died upstairs, but he is a happy ghost as no one has ever saw anything but funny stuff.”
Now the second seat in the front from the right is always down while others are up because of the rumor that he sits there and watches movies from years past.
Due to the loss of her husband, Varhola can no longer be involved with the Actor’s Theater, but she hopes that her husband’s dreams that he had for the theater will be realized and go forward in Fairborn as they were his heartfelt wishes when he started the theater in 1995.
JoAnn Collins is a longtime resident of Fairborn and guest writer for the Fairborn Daily Herald.