Thursday, February 23, 2006

Michael Bloom, Artisitic Director of CPH

The splotlight falls on Michael Bloom, CPH's Artisitic Director

“I love Cleveland, it’s a lovable city.” “Clevelanders take the city for granted and don’t trumpet it.” “The culture in this city is as good as any city in the country.” “Theatre is going through a difficult period due to the loss of corporate support.” “The arts in the area need to be more collaborative.” These were only a few of the comments made by Michael Bloom, the Artistic Director of the Cleveland Play House, during a recent luncheon interview.

Bloom, who is in his second year in the position, is actually just into his first year of being the “real” Artistic Director. When he assumed the position, the 2004-2005 season of shows had already been picked, so his major responsibility was to shepard the season. This year, is his! And, so far, it has been a success. After a somewhat less than critically acclaimed production of ‘ROOM SERVICE,’ CPH came into its own with a stirring production of ‘I AM MY OWN WIFE’ and a charming ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY.’ Both shows exceeded income expectations, with ‘A CHRISTMAS STORY’ breaking all box office records for the country’s longest operating professional theatre. ‘I AM MY OWN WIFE’ did so well here that the production is“on tour” to a venue in Florida.

Bloom took over an organization that was in trouble. Many subscribers had abandoned the venue due to questionable play choices, poor quality productions and a general negative feeling toward his predecessor. Bloom seems to have overcome much of that. He circulates with audiences. He has reached out to the community, for example, by giving speeches at the City Club. He has made family nights and special ticket pricing deals to attract younger audience members. The theatre lobbies were redesigned to warm up the interior and take away the austere look. He has allowed the facility to be used by Dobama and Ensemble Theatres. It is costing CPH a lot of money to house these organizations which have limited funding and can’t make major contributions to cover the facility’s expensive upkeep. This has not been helped by the fact that some funders, including the Cleveland Foundation, don’t perceive the facility to be a community arts center. MOCA (the Museum of Contemporary Art) which has also been housed in what was the old Sears building connected to CPH has recently announced that they will be relocating to University Circle, which will allow for their space to be reconfigured.

Bloom is extremely excited about the forthcoming ‘FUSIONFEST!,’ which is billed as Cleveland’s first Performing Arts Festival and will take place May 2 nd through the 21st at The Cleveland Play House complex. It will include presentations by the Cleveland Play House, The Cleveland Opera, Dobama Theatre, Groundworks, Verb Ballets and Karamu as well as participation by the Cleveland School of the Arts, Shaker Heights High School, MOCA, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. ‘FUSIONFEST!’ will highlight the best new performing arts work in the area and foster collaboration among Cleveland’s large, mid-size and small theatre companies. It will bring together theatre, dance and music under one roof over a concentrated time period and bring national attention to Cleveland performing arts. Bloom is hoping that it will have an economic impact much as similar festivals have done in Louisville which yearly has the Humana Festival of New American Plays. The estimated cost of the festival is $250,000 which will hopefully be underwritten by major corporation sponsors.

Another innovation being pushed by Bloom is the addition of professional acting classes, much in the style of those offered in New York, for local performers who want to hone their craft. The classes will be taught by Seth Gordon and Mark Allan Gordon.

Bloom is in the process of planning for next year’s season which will also add some innovations including one off-subscription family play which will center on a teenage subject.

Bloom, in contrast to his predecessor, has become popular with the local theatre community as he holds auditions which has resulted in a number of local actors finding work.

Bloom, who directed ‘PRIVATE LIVES’ at CPH in 1995, made his directorial premiere at the facility since being appointed as the organization’s eighth Artistic Director when he staged ‘A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.’ The production met with mixed critical reviews. His next directing assignment is ‘WELL,’ Lisa Kron’s one-act absurdist comedy which opens March 3 and runs through March 26.

It will be interesting to watch as Bloom places his own fingerprint on the Cleveland Play House. If his short past history with the organization is any indication, this could turn out to be a joyous ride for Michael Bloom, for local theatre and the entire arts community.