In the play Ratus and Hattie, black friends visiting white friends are served dinner by two black robots, called “Rastus Robot, the Mechanical Negro,” that are salvaged prototypes of a kitchen appliance developed by Westinghouse in the 1930s. The play was selected for the prestigious National New Play Network’s National Showcase of New Plays and was a 2019 finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference and a finalist for the Playwrights Realm’s Scratchpad Fellowship.
Set in Cleveland, The Art of Longing follows the lives of three “third-shift” people—those who guard and take care while the rest of us sleep. The characters’ secrets mask deeply held yearnings that manifest in fantastical abilities and anatomical switch-ups. The play was a finalist for the Leslie Scalapino Award for Innovative Women Performance Writers, a semifinalist for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s 2017 National Playwrights Conference, and received its World Premiere in the fall of 2018 at Cleveland Public Theatre.
The 10-minute play The Bomb, a dark comedy about two ex-lovers who run into each other a Black Lives Matter protest, has been published in “Black Lives, Black Words,” an anthology that aims to explore the black diaspora experiences in some of the largest multicultural cities in the world.
These are among the innovative and daring works created by 2018/2019 Nord Family Foundation Playwright Fellow Lisa Langford.
For the full article, go to: http://canvascle.com/lisa-langford/
The basic formula for a modern staging of a play hasn’t changed very much over time. Lighting, sound, set, costume, direction, stage management and performance are among the required elements. But now the language of live-performance storytelling is evolving rapidly, courtesy of projection design.
What was once an experimental and expensive complement to other design elements has become an accessible and integral part of a production’s manufacturing of atmosphere, landscape, perspective and animated special effects. Now the immediacy of theater and the density of computer generated imagery have joined forces so that the lines between set design, lighting design and projection design blur and audiences can’t tell where one stops and the others begin.
On the local front, T. Paul Lowry, 44, is the projection designer of choice when it comes to solving visual production problems, telling and propelling stories, and making moments on stage look particularly cool. “Projections have now become a dramaturgical element in many Cleveland productions,” notes T. Paul.
When he started designing projections professionally, he was usually brought into a project late in the process, after the set was designed and because the creative team was looking for a specific effect. “Now,” as was the case with Dobama Theatre’s production of The Nether, “theater companies bring me into the process at the beginning” and he approaches his work the same way he would building sets and lights.
For the full article, go to: http://canvascle.com/t-paul-lowry/
It was during rehearsals in last summer’s production of the musical Tuck Everlasting at French Creek Theatre, which is based on a children's novel by Natalie Babbitt, that I first noticed that Calista Zajac prances rather than walks, as if always on the verge of breaking into dance. Or taking flight. She played an 11-year-old living in the woods of New Hampshire, a lead role, who must make a decision with everlasting consequences.
And she sings show tunes 24/7. These and other noticeable symptoms of someone born to perform musical theater have contributed to an impressive professional resume, talent agency representation and placement at the top of the short list of most sought-after local actors.
“While most kids her age are listening to Ariana Grande,” notes her Mom, Jessica, who blames herself and her husband, Louie, for giving Calista the acting itch by exposing her to Broadway musicals when she was just 3½ years old, “Calista listens to Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz and Ben Platt.” Louie, having performed “legendary” spotlight work while at North Royalton High School, credits his daughter’s immense talent to heredity.
Perhaps, but Calista’s remarkable drive, unyielding dedication, laser focus, and years of vocal training at Helen Todd Voice Studio in Cleveland Hts. and dance lessons at Emjaez Dance Studio in Bay Village haven’t hurt. She is particularly adept at losing herself in her characters while, at the same time, finding something of herself to inform their portrayals. And she finds joy in absolutely everything.
For the full article, go to: http://canvascle.com/calista-zajac/
The 2006 made-for-Disney Channel movie “High School Musical” and its sequels have given voice to countless kids who have found their best selves performing on or behind the stage in their own high school productions.
For the past five years, Cleveland’s Playhouse Square has been providing high school triple-threats and stage crafters with an annual opportunity to actually meet, work with and compete against like-minded teens. Called the Dazzle Awards, this initiative is intended to inspire and honor excellence in high school musical theatre and recognize the importance of the performing arts and arts-education within the Northeast Ohio community.
Earlier this year, 31 participating high schools prepared to have a panel of trained adjudicators attend one performance of their musical and evaluate the performers and the production across 15 categories that include Best Actor and Best Actress, Best Student Orchestra, Best Costume Design, Best Technical Execution and Best Musical, and provide each school with educational feedback. To date, approximately 9,000 students have participated in productions represented at the Dazzle Awards.
This year’s process was to culminate with winners announced on May 16, at a gala Dazzle Awards ceremony in the Connor Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square. However, the adjudication process and the event were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, Playhouse Square created a virtual Dazzle Awards chorus video as a culminating project for the schools enrolled in this year’s program.
Read more about Dazzle at: http://canvascle.com/playhouse-squares-dazzle-awards-hone-high-school-talent-inspire-broadway-dreams-even-during-pandemic/
When Raymond Bobgan took over as executive artistic director at Cleveland Public Theatre in 2006, he inherited an organization rooted in the urban revitalization vision and social justice mission of James Levin. Levin, who returned to Cleveland from New York City in 1981, was determined to form an experimental, risk-taking, community-rooted theater group similar to Off-Broadway’s Cafe La MaMa, where he worked as an actor and director.
Raymond was also a passionate artist who has been pushing the boundaries of conventional theater for decades. He told his colleagues, “Let’s stop trying to compete with the LORT [League of Resident Theatres] houses in town – the Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theater – and let’s be good at what we do… work that nobody else in Cleveland is going to try. I want to create an environment for artists, for creators, that feels safe and challenging at the same time.” And, says Raymond, “A critical component of what we do facilitates a sense of community gathering."
It is this mission that is getting the CPT through the pandemic.
Cancelled are two plays in production – an all-Spanish language production of José Rivera’s Marisol and the world premiere of Nikkole Salter’s Breakout Session – as well as the upcoming production of India Nicole Burton’s Panther Women, which has been in development for over a year.
Also cancelled is a showcase of world premiere works by Northeast Ohio dance companies and choreographers called DanceWorks, Nina Domingue’s solo piece, The Absolutely Amazing and True Adventures of Ms. Joan Southgate, and Raymond’s own Candlelight Hypothesis.
Cancelled is Station Hope, the annual community event that celebrates through theater, music, storytelling, and dance Cleveland's social justice history and explores contemporary struggles for freedom and equity. The theater’s educational partnership with Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) at community centers for youth and families who live in public housing has been cancelled as well.
But moving forward, the CPT is trying to figure out how to navigate in the internet world and still create that sense of audience intimacy and make work that continues to be experimental, risk-taking and community-rooted.
“And we are adamant,” adds Raymond, “about keeping everything live rather than recorded.”
Among the new initiatives is a virtual sharing of the pieces and parts of Candlelight Hypothesis, which is being performed by Raymond and fellow artists Holly Holsinger and Faye Hargate. These performances are raw and are being showcased on Zoom so audience members are able to see each other’s reactions and discuss the work after it is completed. “And a silver lining in all of this is that it is forcing me to revisit the work in a new platform and, perhaps, discover what this piece was really meant to be.”
Another silver lining is that “now more than ever there is a need for what we do, which is to gather people and share an experience that will provoke and engage. And there is a greater sense of gratitude from audiences who appreciate what we do as well as from artists who appreciate that their work is being chosen from the many online alternatives available during this difficult time.”
A more personal silver lining, admits Raymond, is that his parents – who are in their 80s and have not been able to watch him perform in years – can now see his work and interact with other appreciative audience members online.
“While we can't be together physically,” states a posting on the CPT website, “we're excited to connect with you in new ways and look forward to seeing you soon.”
Forty seats and a miniscule performance space. Limited cast size and few production bells and whistles. Little overhead and a full-time staff of only three.
This is business as usual for convergence-continuum in Tremont under the supervision of founder and artistic director Clyde Simon.
So with the realization that smaller theater venues may very well be the first to re-open under a new set of guidelines for social distancing, downsizing will hardly be noticed.
Going from 40 seats to 27 and truncating an already small playing space to accommodate an already modest production, says Clyde, “is not that much of a hardship. Small is pretty much our business model.”
Since con-con also dances to a different production schedule than most other theaters – it had not yet started its new season when the pandemic hit – things have been delayed but not necessarily dismantled. Plans are moving forward to produce Robert O'Hara's Insurrection: Holding History in July and the theater might circle back and revisit planned but never staged productions of Johnna Adams’ Gidion's Knot and Topher Payne’s Angry Fags.
“When we started out so many years ago, we never announced a season because we could not plan that far ahead. We announced a show, performed it and, at the end of the run, we announced the next show. That may be the new reality. We have a feeling that audiences will be forgiving.”
Being affiliated with Kent State University's School of Theatre and Dance – one of the Top 30 musical theater programs in the country, according to On Stage Blog – is both a blessing and a curse for Porthouse Theatre during these trying times.
Though a professional theater that taps talent from New York and elsewhere, Porthouse is also a summer training ground for KSU’s full-time students and members of its summer musical theater academies. Unlike other theaters, where the season is hopefully just delayed or detoured, KSU’s April announcement of the cancellation of the academies put an end to the Porthouse season, which was to include youth-heavy productions of Little Shop of Horrors, Bklyn the Musical and West Side Story.
“All but a couple of roles were cast and the design process was just about complete,” recalls Terri Kent, the producing artistic director at Porthouse and head of the Musical Theatre program at KSU. “Having to tell all those designers and actors that there was no work this season was really, really difficult.”
Ever the optimist, Terri is more inclined to talk about the blessings, like how Porthouse’s affiliation with an academic institution guarantees funding for the next season – “an umbrella of protection” – on top of the theater’s sizable and remarkably loyal subscriber base that she calls “family.”
She has already secured the rights to these three musicals for next season and has informed her cast – even the graduating seniors – that they have the right to first refusal to coming back to their roles, “though it is very likely they will have moved on to better and bigger jobs.”
“Much of the work has already been done on these shows and they will be so worth waiting for.”
Just got off the phone with Celeste Cosentino, who is Executive Artistic Director of Ensemble Theatre and has served in nearly every capacity ever since her mother, Lucia Colombi, founded the company in the 1980s. Productions in the theater’s 96-seat main stage and 65-seat black box performance space draw from the canon of modern American classics as well as other significant contemporary plays.
Ensemble shuttered its doors going into the second week of Diane Samuels’ Kindertransport. “We are in the business of people gathering and were among the first to close,” she notes, “and theater will probably be the last business to open” when this pandemic is over.
In the meantime, Celeste has been working with the Cleveland Hts. city council to put together an Arts Council to help coordinate recovery efforts for all the local non-profit arts organizations. She believes that her theater’s small size and non-profit mission should expedite recovery if limited gatherings are part of the nation’s strategy going forward.
Looking ahead, Ensemble is planning a 2020-2021 line up to include Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, Charles Smith’s Objects in the Mirror as well as the Cleveland premiere of Rajiv Joseph’s Describe the Night. “We also hope to schedule shows that we’ve cancelled for this season that people have been looking forward to,” adds Celeste, including the musical Fun Home and, perhaps, a staged reading of Kindertransport.
“This, of course, is subject to change given all the many, many unknowns.”
And it’s pretty much these unknowns that keep every theater guessing at this point.
Production photo: Craig Joseph and Kimberly L. Brown in Ensemble Theatre’s 2020 production of Intimate Apparel
Photo / Shawn Christopher
A potent group of smaller stages are growing and strengthening Northeast Ohio’s theater scene around headliner Playhouse Square
"The conductor has his score, the director his script. The choreographer? Nothing but an intention, hopefully an inspiration and a room full of bodies."
That, according to Martín Céspedes, is the tabula rasa that is musical theater choreography. He should know, having spent the last 15 years in Cleveland engaging in that enterprise at nearly every professional theater in town after a career touring the nation in celebrity-studded productions of Broadway shows which include The King and I and Man of La Mancha. My first experience with Martín's choreography was in 2005 while on the stage in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific at the Tri-C Eastern Campus Performing Arts Center.
When he takes on a new project, Martín, of Westlake, finds the intention behind the dance-to-be by listening
to the musical’s cast album, which he does repeatedly in the isolation of his studio. “The potential for
dance arrangements,” he confides, “resides in the recording. I stand in front of the mirrors, set up my
phone camera, and I riff, notating the length of the dance break, the time signatures – slow, 3/4, 4/4 –
and envisioning style of music – waltz, rumba and so on.”
He then performs and storyboards possibilities as he visualizes himself in the specific situation the dialogue
has created for the music and taps the emotion that the music has created for the dance. The results of
this creative process were most certainly on display during the recent world premiere revisiting of Jane Eyre
by Cleveland Musical Theatre, where Martín's graceful choreography created dramatic, fluid tableaus
that captured – along with Gothic lighting design and period-perfect costuming – the tenor of Eyre’s
haunting childhood memories so vividly described in Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel.
Though inspired by and often paying homage to the choreography created for the original Broadway
productions he is re-staging, Martín is driven to follow his own muse and find his own voice. “While
Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse have created the footprint,” he says, “the actual steps need to be your
For the full article, go to: http://canvascle.com/martin-cespedes/
So what’s going on inside the heads of actors?
Sure, acting requires memorization and a host of complex cognitive skills like imagination and empathy to evoke visceral emotions and create authentic characters. And actors carefully block out movements during rehearsal so their lines are always matched to the same physical motions, forming a kind of bodily mnemonic device.
But do actors actually think when they act? And what do they think about?
“There’s no doubt that actors’ brains differ in important ways from the brains of accountants, cab drivers and neurosurgeons,” noted cognitive scientist Bruce McConachie in a recent issue of American Theatre magazine, “but exactly how and why, no one knows.” Most of the evidence is merely anecdotal rather than scientific.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet noted in his book Theatre that an actor thinking only complicates matters: “They need only say their lines and get out of the way of the play.” Of course, Mamet believes that a director thinking is also unnecessary, suggesting that “they should make sure the actors don’t step on each other’s lines… and then get out of the way of the play.”
There are hundreds of books on acting technique, from Stanisklavsky’s time-honored tome “On Acting” to Stella Adler’s “The Art of Acting,” that offer advice about what to do to prepare for a performance. But they share little insight into what occurs in the mind during one.
To help advance the state of neurological research, but without all the paperwork, two prominent, deep-thinking, Cleveland-based stage performers – Marc Moritz and Marc Jaffe – sat down at a local restaurant to discuss this issue. And to have a light snack.
To read the full article, go to: http://canvascle.com/do-actors-think/
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