Archive for the ‘Cleveland State University’ Category

Building the Play: Beginnings

January 4th, 2011 No comments

So, I’m always harping on Clyde at convergence to use the blog that was set-up to provide patrons an inside view of how a play is staged: from the selection, to the dramaturgy, to the actual decisions made leading to production and even a section maintained by the actors who describe their experience. This is a long way about saying that I need to put my money where my mouth is and do the same thing for my own production.

My thesis play, Patterns, is being put up at CPT. It will be staged three times on March 11, 12, and 13. Information available online at CPT. Enough of the commercial plugs. This process is exciting because it supports a vision of playwriting education that moves beyond the classroom and into the “real world”. It is a process that requires a vision to support it and the students in the NEOMFA program are fortunate to have the support of both Mike Geither, at CSU, and Raymond Bobgan, and CPT. Mike has been a strong advocate for playwrights in the NEOMFA program and has strengthened the relationship of the playwright with the local theater community, including my own staged production at convergence-continuum in 2008. I know that Mike envisions even more of these relationships as the program matures and as time goes on and partnerships emerge such as that between CSU, the Cleveland Playhouse, and Playhouse Square.

Patterns is one of three plays in what is being branded as the NEOMFA Playwrights Festival and it will provide a nice closure to my MFA experience. My two fellow playwrights: Michael Parsons and Jennifer Willoh will be staged in succeeding weekends.

During the first group production meeting it was explained that the model for the festival was Big [BOX] +; Big BOX is happening right now at CPT and I strongly encourage people to attend. The plus (+) as explained to me includes the fact that CPT is paying actors, hosting the audition process, and providing the space for rehearsals. Additional resources are being provided regarding production costs but it has been unclear to me what those are at this time.

Patterns is being directed by Brian Zoldessy, who so far has been a great person to work with. I googled Brian and learned about his extensive career on the local theater scene as well as his rather harrowing experience with a kidney transplant a few years back; which makes his contribution and work on this project all the more amazing.

I was hesitant, at first, as I’m sure he was, as it is always difficult to define the playwright/director relationship, especially when you have never worked with a person. My experience has been limited to working with one student director (Drew Kopas) and one professional director (Clyde Simon); so expanding the portfolio of directorial relationships came with reservations and concerns. Again, Brian has been great and demonstrated his commitment to the project when we met at the Phoenix Coffee in Cleveland Heights and he broke out chess pieces, diagrams, and sticky notes to demonstrate how he saw characters moving in the three dimensional space of the stage. Brian discussed configurations of the space, movement of characters within the space, concerns over where characters would be when not active in the space, and so on. Needless to say, it was a productive meeting and gave me confidence that the director was both interested and concerned about the play. It was interesting to listen also to Brian’s interest in teaching the audience to see the play based on certain light cues (which I included in the script) as well as audio cues, which I did not. Other things of interest included subtle things like the color coordination of hair of actors (related characters) in the play, and so forth. That is, Brian had not only become familiar with the play, but was crafting a vision of his own for the play. That is both delightful and challenging, as I must remind myself that theater is a participatory art form in which many people have role and that the director’s vision is just as important as the playwrights.

Soon after that meeting, I went home and examined the actors required for the characters in the play (I have 21 characters distributed across 7 actors) and looked again at the timing of their presence on stage, and set along my character breakdown as well as my description of the play:

What do you author and what authors you? One young woman’s life is explored via the metatheatrical act of play creation. By combining myth, fairy tale, personal history, dress making and play making, layers of conscious reality are laid bare and meaning in one woman’s life is prodded, crucified, drawn and quartered, and reconstructed again and again and again.

I look forward to upcoming meetings and will post more as we move along.

A Burst of Sunlight…with a small cloud or two

July 9th, 2008 No comments

Finally. That’s what I have to say. Finally.

Several articles have been written recently regarding the possibility of a new home for the Cleveland State University Drama Program, these follow on a proposed master plan discussed a year or so ago. The gist of the new plan includes moving the program to the Allen Theatre, right down Euclid Avenue, positioning the CSU Drama program right in the middle of Playhouse Square.

As Steven Litt, of the Plain Dealer, writes: “Meanwhile, the university and Playhouse Square are discussing a project that would turn the nearby Allen Theatre into a new home for the CSU’s drama program. It would cost at least $10 million and would divide the Allen into two or more performance spaces, while keeping most of the historic 1921 theater intact.”

Further, as Tony Brown postulates, “Here’s a possible future: A 21st-century showcase for the best college drama from Northeast Ohio’s major centers of higher education.”

Why major centers? Funny that you ask. Case Western Reserve University’s MFA Acting program has an agreement with the Cleveland Playhouse to provide a venue for the young stable of actors at Case. But this points to the absence of anything comparable for the playwrights in the CSU or NEOMFA program. And believe me, as a MFA playwright I know what a difference having MFA actors would make. I don’t want to knock undergrads, but there’s cutting your teeth and there’s cutting your teeth. Beating this metaphor to death: some of the undergrads are still drooling and figuring out what the little calcium nubs in their mouth are; but the MFA actors are outright chewing and tearing into things. I’ve seen some of their stuff, including a very good Tom Stoppard piece (The Real Thing). But this doesn’t just include playwrights and actors, this includes lighting, sound, costuming, set-design, and more…

But, I digress. It is a hope that these MFA programs can be merged (or at least come to an agreement) and the addition of the Allen Theatre could serve as a strong catalyst. Don’t get me wrong (again) I don’t dislike the Factory Theatre. It has an upstairs blackbox space that is nice and a very large theater space that is, in my opinion, not made available enough for the MFA playwrights. But the Factory Theatre was just that: a factory. A cotton factory. The Allen Theatre was always a theater.

Further, if Brown is correct, “The university [CSU] would manage the Allen as a downtown venue for a consortium of college theaters across the region to show off their work.”

And I say the more the merrier. This tangentially connects with my earlier piece on this year’s Ingenuity work–there is something magical about a gaggle of artists in one place. Ideas radiate, ricochet, and energy pulsates. And to be in Playhouse Square adds a touch of legitimacy (respectability?) for those who would otherwise seek the general run-of-the-mill, anemic theater fare.

Again, according to Brown, “Last week, [Michael] Schwartz [president at CSU] put the Allen on the front burner for his final year at the university when he announced his retirement next June.

“When I got here in 2001, we were at the very edge of Playhouse Square but had virtually no contact, and that made absolutely no sense whatsoever given our location and the voracious appetite for theater in Northeast Ohio,” Schwartz said.

“I am going to do something about that.”

… He now envisions a theater management program, a technical-theater training school, and a new scenery and costume manufacturing shop operated jointly by CSU and Great Lakes Theater Festival, which is now renovating Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre into its new performance home.

Other quotes follow, including Timothy Chandler, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent; Charles Fee, Producing Artistic Director at the Great Lakes Theater Festival; and Thomas Schorgl, President of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. A good beginning to a necessary partnership-building that can make something like this happen. Taken along with the idea I mentioned in an earlier posting, regarding a voucher program I read about in American Theatre, there are great possibilities for building a theater community in Northeast Ohio that can be truly vibrant.

God knows, that certainly is the kind of theater environment I’d like to be in the midst of!

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