Unleash the villains: Playhouse Square Partners team plans for Jump Back Ball

For the past month, villains have taken over Playhouse Square—turning the KeyBank State Theatre into a Gotham-like environment for a night of mischief on Saturday, Feb. 17 that includes cocktails, live entertainment with Apostle Jones, DJ NicNacc, and other acts,  dancing, games of chance, a raffle and silent auction, hors d'oeuvres, and dessert.

Those villains are members of Playhouse Square Partners young professional group, which hosts the theater district’s Jump Back Ball. The annual event began in 1991 to raise money to support Playhouse Square’s Education programs, like the Dazzle Awards, school performances, Broadway Buzz, and sensory-friendly programming. Many of the Players involved in the fundraising effort, and planning the ball, also attended Playhouse Square’s educational programming as youngsters.

This year’s Jump Back Ball theme is Villains Unleashed: A Night of Chaos on Saturday, Feb. 17 in the KeyBank State Theatre—the entire theater.

“It's a way to see the theater in a different light,” says Lindsey Jump, a Partners board tri-chair with Alexis Fender and Ryan Herman. “Before Jump Back Ball, I would only go to the theater to watch a show. Playhouse Square is just such an institution here in Cleveland—it's so historical, it has so much meaning to the city, and it's so neat to be able to go there and feel like it's ours. We get to have total exposure to all of it that night—and you get to be on the stage.”

Lindsey JumpLindsey JumpJump, 34, and a lawyer with Jones Day, says about 800 people attend Jump Back Ball each year, who are usually between the ages of 21 and 40—raising $3 million for the education department over its 33-year history. “We're really proud of the accomplishments Jump Back Ball has made throughout the years in supporting the education foundation,” she says.

Each year has a different theme, and the Partners spend months planning, plotting, and building elaborate sets for an evening that draws around 800 attendees.

For more than seven months, tri-chairs Jump, Fender, and Herman work together with décor chairs Kevin Molls and Nikitha Sambamurthy, and raffle & fundraising chairs Marissa Alfano and Maria Smith—brainstorming themes, planning the activities and decor, and then building the elaborate sets.

“Last year was ‘A Night on the High Seas,’ kind of like a pirate theme with sea monsters and things like that,” Jump recalls. “The year before was ‘And the Winner Is...,’ which was like an award season kind of theme that was very much focused on black tie attire and was very fancy. We've done ‘Across the Pond,’ a British theme. We've done, a circus theme, we've done an Under the Sea theme.”

This year’s Villains Unleashed theme is no different when it comes to planning and construction.

“We started brainstorming themes in July of last year, and we've been pretty busy,” she says of the timeline. “We picked a theme in the fall and then we met with our decor chairs, and they've really been coming up with these ideas for decor since probably November.”

Jump Back Ball 2023Jump Back Ball 2023Jump says the Decor chairs do an excellent job of outlining their vision and providing instruction on how to execute it when “Shop Nights”—the construction phase—begin.

The projects done during Shop Nights involve building everything to turn KeyBank State Theatre into a night of chaos for the villains in attendance.

“With some of the big items, we're trying to get the mood of villains,” Jump explains. “We're not necessarily focusing on specific villains, but we're trying to bring the mood and the atmosphere of villains. We’ll focus on skylines and cityscapes, and darker alleys with feelings of smokiness. Our bigger items are probably going to be more something like, similar to Gotham or the landscape of a villain’s lair.”

The first Shop Night for Villains Unleashed was on January 17, and the group has met on Monday and Wednesday nights week since then. They will spend two more evenings working on their projects before Setup Day on Friday, Feb. 16.  “Construction is going great,” declared Jump. “We have several projects fully completed, and most of the others are nearing completion. But there is still plenty of work to do, so we would love for people to stop by our last two Shop Nights [Monday, Feb. 12, and Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m.]”

Jump first joined Partners in 2016 after she moved to Cleveland from Columbus and started attending Shop Nights before going to her first Jump Back Ball.

She says the experience has been a great way to meet new people.

“I had recently moved to Cleveland for work and wanted to meet people and learn more about and feel connected to Cleveland,” Jump says of her 2016 decision to join Partners. “It worked! Cleveland is now my home, and I got even more involved in Partners because of its members and their support of Playhouse Square, and its mission to support theater education in Northeast Ohio.”

Jump began a one-year term as tri-chair in July 1, 2023 and encourages others to join the fun— whether it’s as a Partner, a member of Partners Alumni (for Partners who age out after age 40), or simply attending Jump Back Ball.

Shop Night for Jump Back BallShop Night for Jump Back Ball“When else can you just be on the stage [in the State Theatre]?” Jump asks. “And then there's so much to do at Jump Back Ball, If you're not interested in dancing, that's fine, you can watch the entertainers. We'll have artists walking throughout the event. We have a casino room if you're into games. There's something for everyone.

“So I think it's worth giving it a shot, and hopefully you can find something you love.”

Jump says at least half of the attendees come in elaborate, themed costumes, and almost two-thirds will at least don themed headpieces, jewelry, or makeup. She says she plans to dress as the Black Swan.

Additionally, Jump says bringing Jump Back Ball to life is fun, and great way to meet people, and pump up anticipation of the evening itself.

She recalls one recent evening when she made a TNT box as a prop for the ball during Shop Night.

“I love Shop Nights because I spent last night making a TNT box and then I will go to Jump Back Ball and be like, ‘Hey, I made that,’” she says. “I also find that going to Shop Nights [before the] Ball is a great way to meet people. Then when you go to Jump Back Ball, maybe you’ll know a few people already.”

Jump encourages everyone to attend the event. “It's unlike anything I've ever seen before—it's such a cool event they put on. If people find that concept of 800 guests overwhelming, bring friends, come in a group.”

Jump Back Ball, Villains Unleashed: A Night of Chaos, is on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. in the KeyBank State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave.

Tickets are $165 for General Admission ($130 for Partners) and include open bar, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and complimentary parking in the Playhouse Square Garage. VIP tickets are $200 with a 7 p.m. early admission and complimentary valet parking. A limited number of Late Night tickets are $75 with a 9:30 admission time.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.