Rise Up Arts Alliance Moves into New Home

Rise Up Arts Alliance has found a permanent home in Downtown Lancaster! The organization is now renting the lower level of the Lancaster Masonic Temple, 224 S. High Street in Lancaster, Ohio. The new location allows all the theatre troupe’s supplies to stay in the same location where rehearsals and the bulk of performances will be held – in the Historic Lodge Room. For the full story of our partnership, see the attached document.

About the Partnership

Lancaster Lodge No. 57 Free & Accepted Masons of Ohio has a long history of community involvement.  Three churches – St John’s Episcopal, First Presbyterian, and St. Peter’s Lutheran were in large part founded by members of the Lodge.  The first public library was established solely by Lodge members.  We were instrumental in establishing Lancaster’s public school system, and established the first private school in Lancaster.

Lancaster Masonic Lodge also has a history of supporting the liberal and performing arts in Lancaster.  In 1868, the Lodge hosted a “Grand Masonic Concert” in the cavernous City Hall Auditorium, featuring “vocal and instrumental music, tableaux, and dramatic entertainment.” [Lancaster Gazette, 21 May 1868, p. 3] Talent came from within our community.  It was coordinated with a concert the evening before by Mentor’s Band of Cincinnati [Lancaster Gazette, 11 June 1868, p3]. In December 1920 for the Lodge’s centennial celebration, New York Metropolitan Opera soprano Sophie Brosnan gave a public recital at the City Hall auditorium  [Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, 17 December 1920, p. 10]. Our amazing Lancaster Men’s Chorus was started at the Temple by members of the Fraternity and others in the community, and gave its first public concert in the building many decades ago.

Members of the Lodge and its Appendant Bodies have a respectable history of musical variety shows and concerts in the Temple’s auditorium.  First-run movies were shown on the big screen from the 1920s to 1940s.  When the present building was built, it was designed with a projection booth that would house two carbon arc projectors.  Though these were never installed, historic records show that more conventional projectors were used to show reels on the auditorium’s 10×13 movie screen, which remains in use today in conjunction with the Lectures of the degrees of Freemasonry.

In 2020, Lancaster Masonic Lodge saw formidable administrative changes at the behest of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, which returned administrative oversight of the Temple to the Lodge, from a committee that had overseen it for some 30 years.  Despite the adventures that 2020 gave the world in the form of COVID-19, Lancaster Lodge took this opportunity to try to reclaim its legacy of service to community.  The auditorium, with its history of theatrical and musical entertainment, could be admirably used to host the same once again, but for public entertainment rather than just for the membership.  Also, given the considerable annual cost of operating the historic building, seeking out external sources of revenue were of importance as well.  The Temple’s auditorium is the last surviving traditional theatrical stage in Lancaster, and incorporates theatre seating from the former Liberty Theatre on Main Street.

It was at this time that Thurlow Weed, then Assistant Secretary of the Lodge, and Judith Cosgray, Executive Director of Rise Up Arts Alliance, made a connection.  RUAA was actively seeking a suitable performance venue for their productions, and the stage and auditorium at the Lancaster Masonic Temple were well-suited to their needs.  Though not 100% ideal in terms of handicap accessibility, the presence of a stair lift nonetheless provides handicapped patrons access to the auditorium.  Pirates! The Musical was the first RUAA production in the Temple, and was the first time the public was able to experience the historic auditorium as a performing arts venue, as members of the Fraternity had for a century.

Rise Up Arts Alliance and Freemasonry share much common purpose.  Especially for children’s theatre – and particularly for Penguin Project – theatre teaches about interpersonal relationships, communication skills, leadership skills, music, respect for others, bettering ourselves, and community building.

Freemasonry teaches much of the same.  The lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree teaches that “Freemasonry conciliates true friendship among those who might have otherwise remained at a perpetual distance.”

The Mission of Rise Up Youth Theatre is to provide theatrical experiences for all students who want to participate, enhancing their self-esteem and helping to promote and develop each child’s belief in his/her/their own unique blend of abilities. Our intention is to provide continuous learning, with the educational process being as important as the finished product. Especially in the realm of children, we are focused on a positive educational process that can help them become better readers, learners and contributors to society.

 In this respect, both the RUAA and Freemasonry have education as a significant part of our respective foundations.  Theatre incorporates six of the seven liberal arts and sciences that Freemasonry teaches about in the second, or Fellowcraft degree.  RUAA and Freemasonry both teach the importance of building community, and being of service to each other in community, and showing empathy, compassion, and kindness.

For decades, the Grand Lodge of Ohio was actively involved with Ohio Special Olympics.  Several years ago, the Grand Lodge withdrew, and highly encouraged local lodges to be involved with Special Olympics or similar groups within their communities.  Penguin Project is to the performing arts what Special Olympics is to athletics.  Rise Up Arts Alliance is thrilled to be home to the first Chapter of Penguin Project in Ohio.  For Lancaster’s Freemasons, it is a perfect match.

Over the last three years, the Masonic Lodge’s relationship with RUAA has been methodically built.  There have been some challenges along the way, but the relationship continues to grow.  The Masonic Temple provides the ideal location for Penguin Project rehearsals;  special needs children can sometimes experience sensory overload and need to withdraw to a quiet space for a little while before they can resume group activity.  The Temple’s facilities provide this; children have a quiet space to retreat to and be given the physical space they need while still being under the watchful eyes of parents & mentors from a distance making sure they are safe and okay.

Both Rise Up Arts Alliance and Freemasonry teach the importance of service to community, of making a difference in the lives of others, and of uniting people of every sect and opinion to serve the common good. Penguin Project would not be the success it has become without the support of Lancaster Masonic Lodge.

Children are our future.  In this age of social media and decreasing face-to-face interaction with others, it is imperative that we inculcate in our children the importance of interpersonal communication, respect for others, kindness, and instill in them a sense of community.  Freemasonry has been doing this – building people & community leaders –  in Lancaster for over 200 years.

Lancaster Lodge & Rise Up Arts Alliance look forward to continuing to build our relationship, and to present children’s musical theatre events in the Temple’s historic auditorium.  Scheduling sometime presents challenges since the building is in active use by five Masonic bodies, and naturally the Masonic calendar takes precedence.  Lack of working air conditioning in the auditorium prevents events from taking place in the summer months;  however, the banquet hall on the ground floor is wonderfully cool in the summer, and will provide an excellent venue for some planned Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre events that will be presented by RUAA and the Lodge.

Lancaster Masonic Temple is home to the last surviving traditional theatre space in Lancaster, and features theatre seats that were originally installed in the Liberty Theatre on Main Street.

With the Masonic Temple being a faithful reconstruction of the original 1838 building, the Lodge room/auditorium provides a reasonably authentic 19th-century theatre experience.  Just ask the kids –  they’ll tell you right quick it’s their hands-down favourite place!  And the parents love it, too!

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By The Lancaster Herald

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