Running to Places was founded by Joey Steinhagen in 2007 as a way to bring together the many passionate and talented young people of this area so they could create theatre, develop life skills, and have life-changing experiences with people they would otherwise never have had the chance to meet. He was then joined by Ross Mizrahi, Todd Peterson, and Gail Belokur to launch its first season later that fall. Working under the umbrella of Social Ventures for the first year, Running to Places Productions (as it was then known) produced six fully-staged shows between January and August 2008 featuring dozens of teens from all over Tompkins County. “I grew up in northern New Jersey doing about four shows a year in a community theatre company called Song & Dance Associates," says Artistic Director Joey Steinhagen. "I learned nearly everything I knew about theatre prior to college [at IC] working in that company, and made some of the best friends of my life, too. I wanted there to be something like that here."
Running to Places Theatre Company incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in September 2008 with Belokur, Mizrahi, Peterson and Steinhagen as the founding members. The mission of providing opportunities for middle and high school students to create great theatre while obtaining life skills and strengthening our community continued to be refined as we continued putting up six fully staged productions each year for our second through fourth seasons. In that time, Belokur and Steinhagen’s responsibilities shifted several times until they settled in as Co-Artistic Directors. Todd Peterson served Resident Choreographer throughout this period and volunteer finance manager Linda Harris joined the staff.Perhaps the highlight of our second season was performing for the first time at the magnificent State Theatre of Ithaca with our production of Footloose. Opening night in August of 2009 yielded over 800 patrons and caused us to open the balcony, which had not been anticipated based on our average audience of 150 persons to that date.
In our third year, we expanded to include “R2P2” projects—student-directed productions and projects. The first such project was “The Last Five Years,” directed by Nathan Hilgartner and music directed by Jeremy Pletter (now Resident Music Director) as part of a credit-bearing student project for their studies at Ithaca High School. The show ran at Risley Theatre at Cornell University. We also began a collaboration with Shakespeare in the Basement, providing an umbrella under which they could continue to rehearse and perform in Ithaca City School District spaces with them serving as a show sponsor for one of our shows each season.
The Last Five Years
We consider it a milestone that with this and other projects, such as Viva La Femme and Sing Out for Haiti, our student company members were fundraising and sponsoring shows for their own theatre company and other worthwhile causes.
The 2011 season brought about much change. We added the rental of a scene shop in which to build and paint our sets, as well as store our considerable costume and props stock. R2P2 expanded programming to include workshops in dance and stage combat. We also performed for the first time at Hangar Theatre with a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as well as regularly appearing at the State Theatre of Ithaca.
Our fifth season felt significant to us from the start, knowing that surviving the first five years is an important milestone for any theatre company. We enjoyed holding all five of our mainstage shows at either the State or Hangar Theatres.
We welcomed Resident Designer Tyler M. Perry, as well as Resident Music Director Michael Wade, both of whom had already worked with us on several productions, and our momentum felt like great things were in store. However, nothing quite prepared us for the overwhelming response to our first show, Hairspray, which broke the previous audience attendance record for a run with almost 2,300 people seeing the show and six standing ovations over the course of three performances!
For the closing production of our fifth season, Urinetown, we expanded the cast to include a number of R2P alums – even director Joey Steinhagen got in on the act! – and welcomed the talents and leadership of choreographer Steven Dean Moore. Not only was this a ton of fun for everyone in the cast, but also the high school students in the cast were afforded new opportunities for mentorship by working with older and more experienced performers.
In 2013, after years of running to various places for rehearsals and office space, we were delighted to move into our first real home at the Just Be Cause Center for Not-for-Profit Development (1013 West State/MLK Jr. St. in Ithaca).
Created by Jerry Dietz to honor the memory of his late wife Judy, the Center provides R2P with beautiful office space (that doubles as a bustling hangout space for teens during rehearsals) and two rehearsal rooms, including a dance studio with a proper, healthful sprung floor and a full wall of mirrors – a tool we had never, ever had before! According to Steinhagen, "Mirrors make an enormous difference to the kids' ability to learn and grow. When you're an adolescent, your brain and body sometimes disagree about where your elbows are in space – because last week the answer might have been different! Having mirrors provides real-time feedback that helps young people not only learn the dances better, but also to gain a better self-awareness in a very direct and literal way."
Since our beginning, we have produced around around fifty fully staged shows. We also collaborate with and support other local theatres and organizations, including the State Theatre of Ithaca, Kitchen Theatre Company, Shakespeare in the Basement, Opera Ithaca and school programs across the region on a variety of levels and projects. We have enjoyed the support of many community partners, particularly CSP Management, Purity Ice Cream, Inn on Columbia, Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County, the Community Foundation of Tompkins County and The Park Foundation. They, along with our other sponsors, program advertisers, and donors, stand side by side with us to help keep access to theatre and the related arts accessible to all of our community's youth.
Beginning with the 2015 season, R2P as an organization rededicated itself to its founding principle of universal accessibility to all of our community's youth by eliminating the tuition requirement for participation. This means that any interested young person can be in shows and share in the R2P experience FREE of any charge. If you believe that R2P should continue to remain open to all, please consider making a donation to support us.