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A Reniassance without Writers

The Allen Theatre renaissance that has been discussed in Tony Brown’s article on Sunday in the Plain Dealer is indeed excellent news.  There is absolutely no doubt about how powerful is the combination of the Cleveland Play House and Cleveland State University, as well as Playhouse Square and a host of investors.  With the existing theater spaces as well as the participation of Case Western Reserve’s MFA acting program the stage is set, literally, for a formidable arrangement of spaces, players, actors, directors, technicians.  What else could there be?  What possibly could be missing from the theatrical feast?  Oh, yeah, playwrights.

Link to Photo by Lisa Dejong

Allen Theatre Ceiling, Photo by Lisa Dejong

I really do feel impassioned about the opportunity that is opening up in Cleveland and the true and powerful force this represents for Northeast Ohio and the performing arts generally.  Coupled with the wonderful boon that the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grants have been to this region (especially in a time of dwindling corporate and foundation donors), there is no doubt that performing arts represents a form of economic engine that can drive the revitalization of our communities—and God knows that stretch of Euclid Avenue really, really needs something.  For the truth of the economic cornucopia that performing arts offers neighborhoods, we need look no further than the Gordon Square Arts district and all the work that James Levin and Raymond Bobgan and of Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre and a host of others.  As I noted in my article on Theater Impact nearly a year ago, and as was mentioned in a Plain Dealer article by Steven Litt in 2007 (Energizing Detroit-Shoreway; Theater renovations, new building at the heart of neighborhood revitalization. June 24), theater has a definite economic impact on a region and especially on a neighborhood.  A fact discussed in various NEA reports as well (American Participation in Theater, AMS Planning and Research Corporation, Research Division Report #35, National Endowment for the Arts, Santa Ana, Calif. : Seven Locks Press, 1996).  The Gordon Square Arts District is poised to raise $30 million dollars itself for the renovation and reconstruction of the theater district on the Detroit Shoreway, and this $30 million dollar investment in the downtown theater district will turn Cleveland in to a powerhouse of theater with a true potential to rival Chicago as Brown notes about the Loop theater district there.

And I am pleased that what Tony Brown wrote about nearly two years ago, with regard to this possible merger and renovation, is coming true, as will some of what I wrote about then in another article.

What I continue to be sorely, sorely disappointed in is the lack of interest in playwrights or writers in general in this process.  I have learned over the years that you don’t wait for someone to ask you to come to a meeting or party or group—that you need to get off your ass and insert yourself into the mix and into the dialog and I guess, as much as anything, I’m asking aloud who should be inserting themselves into the conversation on behalf of writers?  Cleveland State University is a member of the Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) program—a consortium of 4 schools: Akron, YSU, CSU, and Kent.  The CSU campus is the home site of the MFA playwrights unit.  This unit has turned out some fine writers already, including Michael Sepesy, a fine writer who has performed his work in the New York Fringe Festival and had many positive reviews of his work at CPT.  Michael Oatman, another fine, dynamic, and outrageous writer who’s work was recently featured in the New York Times, who is now a playwright in residence at the University of Nebraska, and who co-authored Warpaint which was a finalist for the John Cauble Short Play award and was produced at the National Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival in April, 2009 in Washington, DC.  Additionally, I’ll blow my own horn briefly as having authored a play that received Best Original Script by a Local Playwright, 2008, Rave and Pan.  There are others, including Michael Parsons who runs Theatre Daedalus in Columbus, OH, along with another talented writer in Jaclyn Villano. And, unfortunately, the dark side—with other fine writers like Peter Roth and Katie Buckels leaving Cleveland to find more receptive environments, such as Carnegie Mellon and Pace University respectively.

It is just unbelievable that MFA playwrights are not being mixed into the fold along side MFA actors and new theatrical spaces—and all of this brought together in a formidable tempest of creative production.  Why is Cleveland always waiting for winners and not reaching out and grabbing hold of its own fucking piece of the fated future and forging it into a dynasty—why must we look to Chicago for a Steppenwolf and a Mamet or Gilman, etc., who seems to look sideways at New York for something else? Well, I take that back, we can learn from Chicago: learn how to generate a strong theater environment for all theater artists, so that new work emerges from new playwrights using a system of powerful theater companies.

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