Anonymous $1.5M gift, $50K from Ludacris push Children’s Theatre closer to Emery Theater finish line

An anonymous $1.5 million gift has The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati one step closer to bringing historic Emery Theater back to life. The performing arts and education organization also received $50,000 from actor and hip-hop artist Chris “Ludacris” Bridges

The gifts pushed TCT past the $30 million mark for its “A Crown for the Queen City campaign, raising money to restore the Over-the-Rhine theater so TCT can make it a permanent home. 

TCT aims to raise $48 million to support the project. 

“It is remarkable that a gift of this magnitude is fueling the home stretch of this campaign,” Allison Kropp, the campaign co-chair, said of the anonymous donation. 

“We are so grateful for the generosity of all of those who have supported this project,” she added, referring to all donations received so far. “You are helping us make history.” 

Bridges announced his pledge from the stage of a sold-out show with Ashanti and Flo Rida at Hard Rock Casino earlier this month, only a few blocks from the theater.

Bridges learned about TCT and the Emery Theater project through his attorney, Darrell D. Miller. Miller is a former TCT board member and current member of the Emery Theater Campaign Cabinet.

Part of the allure of the project, Bridges said, is TCT’s desire to develop new works focused on topics that “matter to kids today.” The father of four noted that a major of his philanthropic efforts is finding ways to invest in the next generation. 

TCT wants to use its future home to “inspire diverse audiences with original works” and create more innovative programming targetting very young children and teenagers.

Owning a theater would allow TCT to do this, the organization said, because they wouldn’t be as concerned about performing shows considered “revenue risks.”

“The Emery project signals an incredible opportunity for more children to access the arts and see themselves in what happens on stage,” Bridges said.  “I’m honored to be a part of this.” 

Restoring the Emery to former glory

Once known as the Emery Auditorium, the acoustically exceptional theater opened in January 1912 with a performance by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which used the Emery as its home until the 1930s.

The then-2,200-seat theater on Walnut Street – designed by famed architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons – was once among the top concert halls in the United States. Sergei Rachmaninoff, John Philip Sousa, George Gershwin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bette Davis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all stood on its stage across its more than 110-year history.

Rendering: The audience looks at a performance on the stage of a remodeled Emery Theater.

The Emery even served as TCT’s performance home for a period, until 1969, but has been used only sporadically since as performing arts venue. 

Developers converted the associated, adjacent Ohio Mechanics Institute’s upper floors into apartments in 2001. But since then, the theater has continued to fall into disrepair. 

Beyond renovating the Emery’s dilapidated interior, TCT is going to undertake structural updates as well, includinfg lifting the stage and addressing the limited backstage and wing space. 

The theater company also will install top-of-the-line technology and technical equipment. They are adding an automated fly system, a 40-foot by 60-foot video wall and adding projection mapping tech.

TCT’s tentative goal is to open the Emery in fall 2025 for its 2025-2026 MainStage season.