Edgy Playground Theatre rebrands as The Nerve Theatre

The co-founders of the Playground Theatre Jenna Valyn and Chris Hahn on the playground. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO KNACK CREATIVE

‘We want to be a professional actor’s theater focused on telling emotionally truthful stories that have a visceral impact on audiences.’

After six years of producing some of the best theater in Dayton with raw, real and relevant bite, Playground Theatre has officially rebranded as The Nerve Theatre.

This marks an evolution for the consistently bold, professional non-equity company, originally conceived to primarily spotlight millennial-driven, off-Broadway plays such as “Reasons To Be Pretty,” “Really Really,” “This Is Our Youth,” “The Tutors,” “Bachelorette,” “Assistance,” and “The Library” among others.

The idea to rebrand may come as a surprise to some, but married co-founders and artistic directors Jenna Valyn and Christopher Hahn, graduates of Sinclair Community College’s Department of Theatre, said they’ve been thinking of carving a different path for at least two years.

“Playground Theatre gave us many wonderful memories including why we named the company The Playground but the name was kind of getting in our way,” Valyn said. “We felt the name wasn’t exactly representative of the kind of theater we’d like to produce moving forward.”

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“The essence of the brand is not changing,” Hahn added. “But the name and look of the brand will align more with our mission. This is a new beginning for us while bringing along all the things we’ve learned in our past experience. The world is crazy right now so what better time to set a new intention for a brand we hope will be much more engaging with the audience. Hopefully, there will be more excitement and intrigue. We’re not merging with anyone but we hope to do more collaborating.”

“Dayton, as a theater community, sometimes seems very separate from each other,” Valyn echoed. “But if we can try to come together as much as we can and build some alliances that will be beneficial.”

The Playground Theatre is changing its name to The Nerve Theatre. CONTRIBUTED/JENNA VALYN AND CHRISTOPHER HAHN

A new identity

Considering the aforementioned plays produced by the duo struck a nerve with audiences, rebranding as The Nerve Theatre feels natural, genuine and refreshing. They hope to retain the loyal fan base that has supported them since inception at downtown venues such as the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center and the PNC Arts Annex to most recently the University of Dayton.

“We loved the multiple meanings of nerve,” Valyn said. “I feel like people will come see our shows and perhaps say ‘The nerve of that company or the audacity of that company to do ‘Bachelorette.’’ But nerve also addresses the fact that every story we choose to tell is emotional, human and gets under your skin.”

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“We want to hit a raw nerve,” Hahn added. “The name feels closer to the way we’ve always identified the work we do.”

They’re also relieved not to run the risk of confusing audiences about their programming style.

“No one is going to ask if we’re a children’s theater anymore,” Valyn noted. “We would constantly hear that (question). So, for logistical reasons there was a reason to change the name.”

Brett Hill (Kent), Jenna Valyn Burnette (Steph), Christopher Hahn (Greg), and Kaleigh-Brooke Dillingham (Carly) starred in Playground Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s edgy drama “Reasons to Be Pretty.” (Photo by Rachel Katz)

Anticipating the future

Last October, Valyn and Hahn co-directed and appeared in the regional premiere of Ingrid DeSanctis' riveting, largely autobiographical drama “Stained Glass,” an outstanding collaboration with UD and the best new play of Dayton’s 2019-2020 season. They’re currently joining forces with Dare to Defy Productions for a variety-themed fundraiser to be streamed virtually later this month.

“The show, filming now, will be released in separate videos and showcases performers from both companies,” Valyn said. “Members of our company will do scenes from plays and the members of Dare to Defy will sing songs. We’re filming it in a cool industrial space which will have a gritty feel which fits both companies. We feel (partnering) with Dare to Defy is an important alliance for us right now because they are the only other professional non-equity company in Dayton. So, it feels great to work with them on this (project).”

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The coronavirus pandemic has stalled live performances since March, but the duo eagerly awaits an opportunity to relaunch their company perhaps later this season. Based on acclaimed past practice, it’s safe to say you can count on The Nerve Theatre to provide thought-provoking, unique and unforgettable storytelling.

“We want to be a professional actor’s theater focusing on telling emotionally truthful stories that have a visceral impact on audiences,” Hahn said. “We want to do shows that have universal appeal for the community.”

“Every person that creates theater wants to grab that elusive audience that’s so hard to get into the seats, particularly younger audiences,” Valyn echoed. “But we also want to grab audiences who want to experience a very human story and feel moved by it, to really think about what they’ve seen afterward or not be afraid to experience something intense. We’re definitely not a theater company that does fluffy material. This rebranding opens the door to do more edgier work.”

For more information, visit nervetheatre.org. You can also reach them on Facebook and Instagram at @nervetheatre.

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