By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim.Org Writer
In 1963, the city of Paducah, Kentucky planned to demolish the aged Market House building in order to make room for newer establishments. Fearing the landscape of their quaint city would be destroyed, citizens and community members united and proposed that the building should be reconfigured into a cultural center. The project, which became one of the largest historic preservation programs in the city’s history, established the Market House Theatre. Today, the theater, which serves a population of 25,000 people as well as numerous tourists, led in reshaping downtown Paducah and the economic landscape of the area.
“Historic preservation is in our DNA,” says Executive Director Michael Cochran, who has been involved with the organization for 36 years.
“That’s what we were founded on and we continue to believe strongly in.”
The Market House Theatre is currently working on its $6.5 million Second Stage project to restore 10 historic buildings in downtown Paducah. While the initiative first helped to renovate 3 abandoned units, the project quickly expanded and now serves as a model for revitalizing neighborhoods across the country.
“It’s bringing the downtown back to life,” states Cochran on the impact of Second Stage.
Aside from its revitalization program, the Market House Theatre offers educational opportunities to adults and children. Improving communication skills, establishing emotional empathy, and working as a team are all lessons imparted on the students as they learn about the elements that shape a theatrical production. Michael’s wife April, who serves as the Education Director, uses books and stories to allow children to act out their own versions of characters and develop skills that help them learn in their daily lives. For high school students, April and the staff teach about working behind the scenes as well as the tools needed to maintain strong stage presence. Through all of their programs, the Market House Theatre shows that theater can be a positive outlet to build confidence and cultivate relationships with others.
“Everybody is so focused on cell phones and iPads and so focused on the digital interactions that they are losing the ability to communicate and connect with each other in real time,” explains Cochran.
“Theater is [about] communicating with other people.”
Both family and adult audiences are welcome to Market House Theatre’s numerous plays, many of which travel to different theaters. For older viewers, the theater works with health care officials to address issues facing their community, such as bullying, eating disorders, and teen suicide. Through compelling and complex stories, Cochran believes audiences are better able to openly discuss their experiences.
“It really opens a great dialogue in the community to bring up health issues,” he says of the plays.
Prior to joining the Market House Theatre, Cochran worked in theaters as well as large for-profit companies. He and his wife were initially drawn to Paducah’s small but hard-working culture and saw growing potential in the theater. While the theater has grown exponentially since he joined, as its leader, Cochran must juggle many roles to ensure all facets of the Market House Theatre are working cohesively.
“The small nature of the business has allowed me to do more than just one little segment.”
“I have people that are very supportive, and the opportunities here are to create and grow with this organization.”
Cochran and his staff are continuing to guide the Market House Theatre through the changing scope of Paducah and the arts and culture sector in general. The organization is working on future projects that would create adaptable spaces in auditoriums and other areas that can be altered to fit new needs. Most importantly, Paducah remains at the heart of Market House Theatre’s work, and Cochran hopes the theater can further shape the colorful history of the city.
“We’re not just an entertainment option. We’re seen as a vital part of this community.”