Community theater brings magic to Barberton and NEO schools

by Allyson Smith

Each season, the Magical Theatre Company of Barberton hosts a variety of shows for a variety of audiences. The Magical Theatre Company aims to entertain people from any demographic, from children to adults, from Akron and beyond.

The theater company began when two local professional actors and directors, Dennis O’Connell and Holly Barkdoll, decided to settle down together after six or seven years of freelance working.

They were hired by a struggling company to direct and act in some plays, but by the end of the season, the theater company announced it was closing.

Holly and Dennis didn’t want that to happen. The board gave them a 60-day contract to see if they could turn the business around. After their first very successful show, their own adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, they did two more. 

“At the end of the season, we looked at each other and said, ‘we think there’s potential here. We don’t want to leave what we think we could accomplish here,’” Dennis says.

They haven’t left for 26 years. Since then, the Magical Theatre Company has put on plenty of plays. They’ve also created education programs, summer camps and endowment funds for “artistic excellence.”

Beginning in 1996, the company started a program called KidScripts, where students can write stories for the company to adapt into plays and perform at their schools. They hold a two-week long musical theater camp in the summer, plus The Great Big Acting Camp, which takes place in public schools to teach kids skills needed in theater. Additionally, they travel to schools, churches and clubs all over Northeast Ohio to perform and teach students about theater.

According to Dennis, it’s not unusual to come across middle school and high school students who have never seen a play.

Dennis says the company is committed to theater for young audiences and families, but its actors are professionals who work alongside some dedicated children.

“For this company to succeed, we believe it has to be fully committed to providing the best possible theater that we can afford for kids and families… that’s a core principle of our company.”

During the Christmas season, the company put on Prancer, directed by Holly. This play follows a young girl named Jessica as she copes with the death of her mother, her family’s financial burdens, adolescence, and — most important — finding Santa’s reindeer, Prancer, injured in the woods.

Their upcoming plays for the season include Harriet Tubman, running from Jan. 29 to Feb. 9, and Charlotte’s Web, from May 7 to May 17. They will also be on tour with Rumpelstiltskin and Mother Goose.

To learn more about the Magical Theatre Company, visit

Allyson Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Akron, where she studied media production. She aims to incorporate her passions of traveling and drinking coffee into a prolific and fulfilling career in the media industry.