Sunday, August 06, 2000

Playhouse shoots for the hip

Monday series aimed at Gen-Xers

        It's the question every arts company asks itself: how to attract and keep that up-and-coming, 35 and under audience.

        Interestingly, this season Playhouse in the Park has enough youthful titles on the schedule, starting with Dark Paradise, Shakespeare's R&J and a capella street musical Avenue X, to make an easy pick-your-five-play subscription for Gen-Xers.

        The theater's happy dilemma is that full-price tickets can be dear and Shelterhouse tickets, where several of the most intriguing titles are set, can be rare. Even half-price day-of-show admission, can be hard to come by.

        Playhouse did record business last year, so much so that two preview performances were added to Shelterhouse runs. Subscriptions are running ahead of last season.

        As a lure to new audiences, Playhouse will debut a 10-event Monday series running January through March.

        The idea, says Charles Towers, associate artistic director, is to develop “alternative performances and performers that are non-traditional to the Playhouse.” Shows will run 75 to 90 minutes on the plaza in what he calls a “coffeehouse, cabaret atmosphere.”

        Mr. Towers is overseeing the series, and he's been scoping out local talent for months. He expects some acts to come from as far away as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Louisville.

        Categories for programs include monologuists, improv, puppet theater, spoken word, new vaudeville, dance/movement, music “with components that make it theatrical,” independent film, new magic.

        The common denominator is “hip.” “Maybe we'll find genres we haven't even thought of, and that would make us really hip.”

        Twenty- and thirtysomethings are a target, and Mr. Towers wouldn't mind if the Monday series creates a “bridge” to the season for new audiences, but the larger reasoning, Mr. Towers says, is that “Ed loves to have things happen. His thinking is "let's have more things happening.' ”

        The lineup won't be announced for months, but a sure bet is New York fave David Gonzales, who's been a regular on the Rosenthal Next Generation series for years. His adult material is every bit as spellbinding as his kids' stuff.

        International flavor: Cincinnati is on the map of the theater world — or at least world theater is on the map in Cincinnati, pinpointed in Over-the-Rhine.

        The Theatre of the Mind play-reading series, housed at Ensemble Theatre, has set its six-play reading series for 2000-2001:

        The schedule is: Sept. 18, Playland by Athol Fugard; Oct. 16, Albertine in Five Times by Michel Tremblay; Nov. 20, Pantomime by Derek Walcott; Feb. 19, Yoroboshi: The Blind Young Man by Yukio Mishima; March 19, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo; April 16, Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka.

        That includes the work of three Nobel Laureates and the series has won a $10,000 vote of confidence from the Ohio Arts Council.

        Don't know Theatre of the Mind? It started quietly last year based at Mercantile Library. The series spotlights local professional actors and directors.

        Opener Playland features Michael Bath, Anthony Davis and Everett Cork directed by Amethyst's Luther Gibson.

        Performances are at 7 p.m. at ETC, subscriptions ($24), individual tickets ($6) and season brochures are available at the box office, 421-3555.

        The OAC grant, Theatre of the Mind co-founder Norma Jenckes says, creates the opportunity to invite playwrights to Cincinnati for public readings and seminars with local university students. She is in contact with Derek Walcott and Wole Soyinka.

        South Africa's acclaimed dramatist Athol Fugard is already scheduled for a Cincinnati visit in September in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Helen Weinberger Center for the Study of Drama and Playwriting at the University of Cincinnati. Ms. Jenckes is center director.

        Winning play: Congratulations to local playwright Joe McDonough, whose The Age of Discovery, read at Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative in February, is a semi-finalist at the Charlotte (N.C) Festival of New American Plays and will have a staged reading in New York by the Abingdon Theatre Company.

        "Rocky' road: In the Timing Is Everything Department: Now that The Rocky Horror Show has been scheduled for a Broadway run, performing rights in major touring cities — that includes Cincinnati — have been snatched away. Downtown Theatre Classics put in a bid early enough that its license to produce the show next spring stands — which ought to put the local production in tandem with the Great White Way.

        Another chance: For everybody who couldn't be accommodated by the League of Cincinnati Theatres unified auditions in June, there's a sequel scheduled for 1-8 p.m. Thursday at Ensemble Theatre (1127 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine.)

        Appointments must be scheduled with Khara Pease (421-3555, Ext. 28). Actors should bring five copies of their resume and headshot. One monologue (no longer than three minutes) should be prepared and/or a song with cassette accompaniment.

        Anyone who participated in the June unifieds need not apply.

        Members of the League are: Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative, Ensemble, Hot Summer Nights, Janus Project, Kincaid Regional Theatre, Know Theatre Tribe, Madcap Productions Puppet Theatre, Ovation Theatre Company, Playhouse in the Park, Stage First Cincinnati, Theatre IV Art Reach and Theatre of the Mind.

        Skills needed: The 2001 class of Business Volunteers for the Arts are being recruited.

        Interested in sharing your talent at accounting, board development, computers, strategic planning, marketing, grants writing, graphic design or myriad other business skills with an eager small arts organization that's bound to attach itself to your heart?

        The Arts Services Office has the program for you.

        BVA, going into its fourth year, recruits, trains and matches about three dozen volunteers a year. So far, about 15 percent are serving on the boards of their BVA partner.

        Program director (and matchmaker par excellence) Heather Hallenberg crows that a mentoring program and review team helps keep program alums involved, so much so that the Cincinnati chapter of the national organization is second in the United States in volunteer hours (4,000) logged. (Phoenix is first).

        If you have a couple of hours a week to spare, BVA is a volunteer experience like no other. Application deadline is Aug. 31. Call the Arts Services Office at the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts, 871-2787 for an application and information.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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