Allen Theater

Cleveland, Ohio | C.1921

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


At first glance, an ornate theater might seem like an unusual venue for a laser light show. Truthfully, the pairing is just as surprising upon deeper inspection. But for two years in the late 1970s, the Allen Theater was transformed into a Laserium, and in the theater’s traditional auditorium, this must have been quite a sight. 

As one of the five founding theaters in downtown Cleveland’s “Playhouse Square” – the largest American theater district outside of New York – the Allen Theater was built in 1921 as a movie house that can only be described as palatial. With sculpted arches and domed ceilings, it’s Renaissance-inspired design features elegant columns, towering ceilings, and intricate finishes from top to bottom.

Unfortunately, like many theaters of the era, the Allen’s heyday was brief. Economic depression, war, and a retreat to the suburbs led patrons away from its stage and periodically shuttered its doors, nearly resulting in its demolition. 

When laser light shows burst onto the entertainment scene in the 1970s, the dusty old theater proved itself to be the perfect – albeit somewhat overdressed – spot for these magnificently choreographed dances of light and music. 

This combination of old-meets-new is a theme still found in the Allen Theater. For a recent reimagining and revitalization project, our architecturally savvy friends at DLR Group did their part by placing mesh acoustical panels over the interior walls and ceilings. When lit, the original facade – still intact – is revealed.

Nowadays, the theater houses the Cleveland Play House and Cleveland State University’s Theater Department. Lasers are, of course, optional for all current and future productions.

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