Mr. Smalls Theatre

By Leah Greggo

November 2020

There are many religious spaces currently in use in Pittsburgh, from synagogues to cemeteries. But there is also a lot of religious history hidden in buildings that have been repurposed for secular uses. Mr. Smalls Theatre is one such example of a formerly religious building with a rich history.

In 2002, Mike Speranzo and Liz Berlin transformed a church Mr. Smalls Theatre. The venue includes a concert hall that can hold 800 people for concerts or other events, a smaller stage, and a restaurant. In the basement there is a small café. Mr. Smalls Theatre has hosted performances by both local and national artists. President Bill Clinton even visited once for a political rally. The building itself was also once a Catholic Church called St. Ann’s.

“Performance by at Mr. Smalls Theatre” Mr. Smalls. Local artist Cherylann Hawk performs during Mr. Smalls outdoor concert series. The red brick building that was once Millvale United Methodist can be seen in the background.

St. Ann’s was founded in 1874 and moved into the building that is currently Mr. Smalls Theatre in 1924. St. Ann’s was part of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Due to declining enrollment, St. Ann’s merged with another congregation and the church was closed in 1998. 

Large brick building with archways in front of the door
“Mr. Smalls Theatre.” Mr. Smalls. Mr. Smalls Theatre was formally St. Anns Church and looks much like a church from the outside

Although extensively renovated, the venue still has some of the look and feel of a church, from the high ceilings to the large stained-glass window at the front of the building. Also like a church, Mr. Smalls has remained a place where the community can gather. But instead of gathering for mass, patrons come together to listen to music and to eat at the restaurant or café. In 2016, Mr. Smalls Theatre opened a second smaller stage called The Funhouse, which holds a little under 200 people. One of the stated goals of this smaller stage is to provide a spot for artists to perform for a more intimate audience. Speranzo and Berlin hope that this space, which often offers free shows, can provide a vital stepping stone for local artists in particular.

In 2017, Speranzo and Berlin purchased the Methodist church just across the street from Mr. Smalls, Millvale United Methodist, giving yet another former church a second life. The Sanctuary, as it has been named, is currently undergoing renovations. When completed, The Sanctuary will house Berlin and Speranzo’s “Creative.Life.Support,” which includes a not-for-profit record label that gives local artists a chance to record their music. It also holds various music programs for Pittsburgh children, teens and young adults. Those programs include a music camp and workshops for young adults who are currently or formerly foster children. This just another illustration of the deep community ties that Mr. Smalls Theatre has cultivated in Pittsburgh.

Featured Image

“Inside Mr. Smalls Theatre,” Mr. Smalls. The inside of Mr. Smalls Theatre during a concert.

Further Reading

“Brief History of Holy Spirit Parish Church Building Millvale, PA.” Grouping 101, egmcatholic.org/history

Conway, Brian. “Sanctuary at Mr. Smalls, with Café and Studio, Planned for Former Church in Millvale.” NEXTpittsburgh, 4 January 2017, nextpittsburgh.com/city-design/smalls-expands-footprint-renovations-new-building-purchase/

“Creative.Life.Support.” Creative Life Support, creativelifesupport.com/

Eldridge, Dan. Former Churches Blessed With New Lives in Pittsburgh. 21 October 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/travel/former-churches-blessed-with-new-lives-in-pittsburgh.html

“The Theatre.” Mr. Smalls, 7 November 2017, mrsmalls.com/facilities/theatre/

How to Cite

MLA: Greggo, Leah. “Mr. Smalls Theatre.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 8 January 2021, https://religyinz.wordpress.com/2021/01/08/mr-smalls-theatre/

APA: Greggo, Leah. (2021, January 8). Mr. Smalls Theatre. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.wordpress.com/2021/01/08/mr-smalls-theatre/

Chicago: Greggo, Leah. “Mr. Smalls Theatre.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 8 January 2021. https://religyinz.wordpress.com/2021/01/08/mr-smalls-theatre/