Monday, October 31, 2011

Theatre in Cleveland, feature story


Feature story to: Arts America

The woman on the deck of the cruise ship looked at me and asked, “What do you do?” I responded “I’m a theatre and dance reviewer in Cleveland, Ohio.” “Oh,” she responded, “you must not have a lot of work to do.” When I told her I cover an average 3 or 4 productions a week, and that’s only the professional theatres and dance companies, and don’t get to the twenty or so community theatres and college productions in the area, she looked at me in shocked surprise.

Yes, as is the case with many other things, the Cleveland’s arts scene, is under appreciated, but booming. Yes, booming, even in these times of recession. For example, five theatres and a dance company have moved into new venues in the past several years.

Cleveland is the home of the second largest arts complex in the country. Only New York’s Lincoln Center is larger than PlayhouseSquare, with its assemblage of the Palace, Ohio, State, Allen, Hanna, 14th Street, and Kennedy’s Down Under theatres. This complex plays home to the Broadway touring series, Page to Stage (a program in which theatre writers and producers are invited to develop Broadway-aimed productions), a joint effort between Baldwin Wallace’s nationally recognized musical theatre program and PlayhouseSquare, as well as the Cleveland Play House, Cleveland State University’s drama program, and Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA in Acting program.

Professional theatres include CLEVELAND PUBLIC THEATRE, located in the transforming Detroit-Shoreway area, which not only stages traditional performances, but does many new and experimental works. It is the home of Springboard, a
 staged reading program of new scripts by local writers.

CLEVELAND PLAY HOUSE, which was founded in 1915, CPH, is America’s oldest regional theater in America. It produces new and classic works in its newly refurbished home in the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square. It’s new play development program has produced numerous well-known playwrights. The MFA program, which is affiliated with Case Western Reserve University has a growing national reputation.

DOBAMA THEATRE, in the Lee Road area of Cleveland Heights, is dedicated to the production of new and recent plays. The theatre recently celebrated its 50th anniversary by moving into a new facility. It is the home of the Marilyn Bianchi Kid’s Playwriting Festival.

BECK CENTER produces a combination of traditional musicals and cutting edge plays, as well as children’s productions. It is housed in the inner rim community of Lakewood. It recently refurbished its Studio Theatre.

ENSEMBLE THEATRE believes that the arts are an essential and meaningful part of life; therefore, the theatre offers an important forum for stimulating and provoking thought about the issues of contemporary life, and it is a place for communal experience. This fall it found a home by retro-fitting the gym of a former elementary school in the Coventry area of Cleveland Heights.

GREAT LAKES THEATER was founded by Arthur Lithgow (father of John Lithgow) in 1950. Formerly known as the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, it has remolded its it programming to fit into its brand new space in the Hanna Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. Operating on a $3.7 million dollar-a-year budget, it produces it produces Shakespeare, the classics and modern day musicals. GLT
shares a resident company with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. On its main stage, GLTF connects approximately 85,000 adults and students to the classics each season. The theatre’s lobby bar is named for Tom Hanks who started his acting career here.

ACTORS’ SUMMIT, located in Akron, is home to a dynamic mom and pop theatre family, whose purpose is to present professional theater created by Ohio artists for the entertainment and enrichment of its diverse community.

MERCURY SUMMER THEATRE, recently relocated to the campus of Notre Dame College, was founded by graduates of the Baldwin Wallace College’s musical theatre program. It stages summer theatrical productions.

KARAMU opened in 1915 and is the country’s oldest African American theatre. Housed in the inner city, the mission of Karamu House is to provide a joyful place of gathering where all people can learn about and experience multicultural arts, foster an awareness of cultural diversity, and inspire an appreciation for the richness of African American cultural heritage. It gave the first voice to Clevelander Langston Hughes.

CONVERGENCE CONTINUUM, a quirky theatre, with a resident company, stages non-traditional productions in the Liminus, a former car repair garage turned theatre in the Tremont area of Cleveland. As the artistic director states, “What if, instead of going to the theatre to watch a play, you crossed the threshold into the world of the play to experience it? Theatre that expands the imagination and extends the conventional boundaries of language, structure, space, and performance that challenges the conventional notions of what theatre is?” That is convergence-continuum.

PORTHOUSE Theatre, located on the grounds of Blossom Center, the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra, is the warm weather residence of Kent State University’s theatre program. It produces three summer offerings each year with student and local professional actors.

LAKELAND Civic Theatre is housed on the campus of Lakeland Community College, in Kirtland. Its goal is to provide a learning environment that fosters aesthetic literacy and expressive capability through the cultivation of artistic techniques and skills and the exploration of creative traditions and possibilities . Sondheim shows often grace the theatre’s stage.

THEATRE NINJAS, the brainchild of artistic director Jeremy Paul, was founded to create accessible and entertaining live performance while attracting new and young audiences to the theater. Ninjas performs original works and interpretations that draw on elements of film, dance, improvisation, physical theater, graphic novels and music. They are a vagabond troupe who appear in various venues, from art galleries to actual theatres, according to the physical needs of a production.

FAIRMOUNT PERFORMING ARTS CONSERVATORY, located in Mayfield Village, is the professional wing of a thriving student theatre training school. The adult productions center on musicals and traditional comedies and dramas.

Yes, to the surprise of many, theatre is alive, well and thriving in Cleveland!