Evolution Theatre Company becomes the first professional theater company in Dublin

Show must go on

by Megan Roth, CityScene

May 1, 2022

Through an unexpected turn of events, Evolution Theatre Company, Columbus’ premier professional LGBTQ+ theater company, found itself without a place to perform as 2020 came to a close. After changes in management at the group’s original venue, the Columbus Performing Arts Center, led to new plans for the building, Evolution was forced to vacate the space Downtown.

But the theater company’s story didn’t end there. Through a previous connection, Evolution was able to find a new home in the Abbey Theater of Dublin.

“When (Evolution) had to leave the Columbus Performing Arts Center and I had no place to perform,” says troupe Executive Director Mark Phillips Schwamberger says, “it really was a blessing in disguise, because it opened up new opportunities for us and what we can produce.”

The new partnership began with a connection between Schwamberger and Joe Bishara while both were working at CATCO. Bishara is now supervisor for the Abbey, as well as the president of Theatre Roundtable, a central Ohio theater advocacy organization.

After getting in touch with Bishara, Schwamberger toured the Abbey. He was quickly impressed with its high-end technology and comfort. Soon, a new chapter for Evolution began

In fall 2020, the Abbey virtually presented The Sissy Chronicles, written and performed by Schwamberger and directed by Bishara. Following the success of the show, three of Evolution’s five productions for the 2021 season were held at the Abbey.

The initially frantic search for a new stage has now led to a relationship with benefits for both Evolution and the Abbey.

Schwamberger and Bishara work collaboratively on productions, with Bishara serving as Evolution’s creative consultant. Schwamberger expresses his creative visions, while Bishara serves as a voice for the local community, making sure the productions are a good fit for Dublin.

“Evolution has added a new dimension to the Abbey,” Bishara says. “You can come here every

weekend and see something completely different. With the diverse offerings Evolution has added, there really is something for everyone.”

Performing at the Abbey has opened a range of possibilities for Evolution as well, giving its productions access to more modern technology.

“(The Abbey) has improved our production quality,” Schwamberger says, “The lighting system is incredible. We can do all kinds of stuff we weren’t able to do at the Columbus Performing Arts Center.”

He also says the Abbey has enhanced the audience’s experience by providing a comfortable environment for viewers.

Evolution, the only professional theater company in Dublin, has also learned to cater to a new customer base.

“(The relationship) has changed what we can perform, what’s the best thing for us to perform,” Schwamberger says.

For its 2022 season, Evolution’s productions will broaden to include a younger audience with shows that are appropriate for ages 16 and up. Schwamberger believes it’s important for young people to experience queer stories through theater.

“This is something really different for a gay theater company,” Schwamberger says. “But it’s very important that the youth realizes that there’s a place to learn about the gay individuals that made the country great.”

Bishara is proud of how Evolution has integrated itself into the Dublin community, and Schwamberger is thankful for all the community has done to welcome the troupe, including grants from the Dublin Arts Council.

“Dublin is a growing community,” Schwamberger says. “And Evolution wants to grow with them. I hope to be a part of Dublin for many years to come.”

The relationship between the two is truly a symbiotic one, and Schwamberger hopes it’ll be a lasting one. The company has been warmly welcomed, including receiving grants from the Dublin Arts Council, and in turn expanded access to high-caliber performing arts in Dublin.

“You don’t have to go downtown to see professional theater,” Bishara says. “It’s right here at the Abbey.”