On Maj. Kevin Jackson’s second day on the job at the Salvation Army of Summit County in Akron a year ago, he wrote the words “black box theater for Romig Road” on a white board.

He and his wife, Maj. Linda Jackson, knew they wanted to bring theater to the forefront of the organization’s developing Billy Booth Arts and Science Factory summer and after-school programs for kids.

Now, the Salvation Army is partnering with Rubber City Theatre of downtown Akron to offer professional theater productions as well as youth learning opportunities at a new theater space at 2207 Romig Road in Akron. The Salvation Army-owned building was previously used as a storage warehouse.

“I found this great facility out there and I thought, ‘Oh this is a programming space. This is not a warehouse,’ ” Kevin Jackson said of his first visit to the 18,000-square-foot building, which will house a new 35- by 51-foot black box theater by October.

It’s “obviously a depressed part of town. It just seemed like a great spot to try to do something program-wise,’’ he said of the run-down corridor near the former Rolling Acres Mall in southwest Akron.

The partnership between RCT and the Salvation Army was inspired after the Jacksons attended RCT’s production of Julius Caesar in May at The Well CDC, a converted church space that has been the theater’s home for a year. The Jacksons were impressed with the small professional company’s performance but thought the space, which has poor acoustics, detracted from the overall quality of the show.

RCT, in the meantime, was looking for a new performance space with better acoustics and wanted to return to the intimate black box theater setup it had at its previous home at Summit Artspace. With the lease expiring soon at The Well on East Market Street, producing artistic director Dane Leasure said the company is done battling the acoustic problems there.

“Our audiences weren’t growing as we anticipated and we felt like we were actually losing people,’’ said Leasure, whose theater operates on an $80,000 annual budget and sees annual audiences of nearly 2,000.

When the Jacksons learned that RCT was offering a Lion King Jr. summer camp in partnership with Spotlight School of the Arts in Medina, they asked if the Salvation Army could host the performances at its Citadel chapel on South Maple Street downtown. The collaboration was part of the Army’s new Billy Booth Arts and Science Factory.

That highly successful partnership with RCT, which included 20 kids from the Salvation Army’s summer program among the 30 young performers, resulted in three sold-out shows attended by 560.

“I thought it was fantastic seeing kids from different backgrounds all coming together to put on a fantastic show,’’ Leasure said.

Associate artistic director Sarah Bailey directed the Lion King Jr. collaboration and Leasure led RCT’s Shakespeare 101 summer program with the Salvation Army, which culminated with a mini kids’ version of Twelfth Night.

The effect that participating in live theater had on at-risk Akron kids was striking, Jackson said: “It was almost amazing the transformation that took place in some of our kids who probably never would have had the chance if it weren’t for this partnership we launched this summer.”

Most of the kids had never stepped foot on a stage before and many had never heard of Shakespeare.

“To see a 10-year-old up there delivering a fairly complex set of lines from Twelfth Night, it just can be a very powerful thing,” Jackson said.

‘Tangible hope’

The Jacksons, who came to Akron last July after working for 14 years with the Salvation Army in Los Angeles, had established Billy Booth Arts and Science Factory programs — named after Salvation Army founder William Booth — there and in Billings, Mont. The organization’s work with children in the arts is a key part of its mission to break the cycle of poverty.

“Don’t get messed up in the wrong crowd, become an actor. Don’t get messed up with drugs, here’s a horn,’’ Kevin Jackson said. “We call it tangible hope.”

That mission aligns well with RCT’s mission of providing opportunities for free and affordable theater education and experiences in the Akron area.

“We found our soulmates in terms of programming,’’ Jackson said of RCT staff members Leasure, Bailey and managing director Casey Robinson. “We look at the world through the same lens … so we’re going all in with theater.”

“At the end of the day they’re just naturals with kids.’’

Black box theater

On the professional side, Rubber City Theatre will start out performing in a temporary black box theater at the Salvation Army’s Romig Road space. The theater will open to the public by Oct. 6, with RCT’s second show of the 2017-18 season, Hamlet. RCT will use a pipe and draping system to create the black box theater space and bring in its own lighting and sound equipment.

More than half of the huge Romig Road building will be used for another new Salvation Army after-school program by late September: an indoor farm that will use cutting-edge technology to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce and more.

RCT will lease the Romig Road theater space at a discounted rate and continue to be heavily involved in the Billy Booth after-school program on Maple Street. The arts factory continues this fall with 70 after-school students, with the goal of 100 in the spring and 350 to 400 in two years.

RCT also will work at the Salvation Army’s Maple Street location to offer the first Rubber City Youth Theatre production, Godspell, in November as well as the Billy Booth program Disney’s The Aristocats Kids, both directed by Bailey.

For more information, see www.rubbercitytheatre.com or http://oh.salvationarmy.org/Akron-Summit/after_school_program.

Leasure will create synergy with RCT’s holiday show, too, leading a theater class where kids will do a mini version of A Christmas Carol and then get to see RCT perform the full show in December.

Down the road, the temporary black box theater at Romig Road will be converted into a permanent theater.

“Our longterm plans are to turn it into a permanent space, a more permanent theater setting,’’ likely within a year, Jackson said.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.