Sunday, October 13, 2002

The arts

Shakespeare could help heal racial woes

When Cincinnati Shakespeare announced its 2002-03 line-up last spring, producing artistic director Jasson Minadakis emphatically stated that the new season would be a response to the social unrest in the city.

Can theater impact the community?

Cross your fingers, it looks like it could.

Earlier this week, the performers and staff of Cin cinnati Shakespeare donated their time and a few buckets of sweat equity to the cause of healing Cincinnati's racial woes.

They moved their contemporary, urban, interracial production of Romeo & Juliet (closing performance 2 p.m. today, 381-2273) from their downtown home at 719 Race St. to Xavier University for one night, to be the starting point in talks between the folks on both sides of th e boycott. The private event was hosted by the international conflict prevention and resolution organization Searching for Common Ground.

L. Allen Scheid, vice-president and executive producer of Searching for Common Ground's production branch, saw the performance on the recommendation of Karol King, Cinergy exec and festival board member who said, “You might want to see this.”

Searchi ng for Common Ground often uses arts as an entry point for conflict resolution. “Through politics, people talk head-to-head. Through arts, people talk heart-to-heart.”

Mr. Scheid knew that this R&J, directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, was exactly right for addressing difficult issues. “They get it,” he said. “They get the city, they get that it's about the need to communicate, they get the Shakespeare.”

The festival production spent most of Monday and Tuesday being videotaped. Mr. Scheid will put together PBS-friendly 60- and 90-minute programs including scenes, interviews with cast and crew and segments of the facilitated dialogue among community activists, politicians and Xavier students.

He expects to have both versions ready by December. Channel 48's Colleen Harris s ays, “There is a possibility we will air it, after we see it, based on the quality of the production.”

A third version will be used for in-school dialogues.

Rare opportunity: One look at Ron Daniels' directing resume and you know you have to see his work in its Cincinnati debut: The Public Theater and Theatre for New Audiences in New York, the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., S an Francisco Opera, five years at American Rep in Boston and more than 10 years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he was artistic director of The Other Place Theatre, RSC's experimental stage at Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Mr. Daniels was lured to Cincinnati to direct Havana Is Waiting for the very simple reason, says the Brazilian-born artist, that he couldn't resist the offer of “working with Latino actors, directors, designers” — a rare opportunity on American stages.

Even as the Latino population grows, inroads for the most part are in TV and films, Mr. Daniels observes. “The demographic of theater makes it difficult. When theater is 30 or 40 bucks a ticket, it's still connecting to an upper-end market” that marginalizes minority issues.

He's a fan of Havana, which makes the personal political and the political personal when a gay man returns to Cuba after leaving it as a child.

He especially likes the show's message that “things are complex, they're not necessarily what we're taught. There is the notion of truth and truth, which is far more interesting.”

He's already back in New York, balancing plans to direct for San Francisco Opera and a Latino-themed film The War Boys by Naomi Wallace, award-winning playwright and Kentucky native.

Havana Is Waiting continues through Oct. 20. Tickets: 421-3888.

Big success: It's been a great 20 days and 20 nights of hearty arty partying for Enjoy the Arts/START, celebrating 20 years in the biz of making arts accessible to students and young professionals, says ETA exec director Lisa Mullins.

Job One was to raise the profile of the organization, and Ms. Mullins says mission accomplished. It was even a hit with participants at the Midpoint Music Fest (which happily counted up 9,000 tickets sold and is planning bigger and better things for next year).

Tonight is the final night of 20/20. The fest wraps with a dance party from 7-10 p.m. at Spy Club (301 W. Fifth St., d owntown).

Series resumes: Performance, Time and Art series resumes at College Hill Town Hall on Friday and Saturday with a big line-up of old friends, from the quirky performance art of Bill Donnelly to a poetry team from the University of Cincinnati's English department faculty.

Dancer Holly Price is a PTA committee member and on the weekend bill.

Getting involved with PTA was a na tural, she says. “It was the only place I'd been that supported experimental, local performance arts that aren't based in one genre.”

Ms. Price was impressed when she went to their shows, became involved. That's exactly what the PTAers are hoping for with this weekend's audiences. “We want to get the community together, get them involved, have people start talking.

“Everyone's an art ist, but some people are compulsive artists,” says Ms. Price, explaining why she's a performer. (She's one of those “compulsive” artists.)

Non-compulsives are invited to join the audience. “The more people who know about PTA, the more will support the series,” she notes.

Tickets and information: 591-1222.

Hoping for Broadway: Tom Korbee, a 2002 drama grad from the UC College-C onservatory of Music, opens this weekend in New York — Nyack, N.Y. He's among the cast of Showtune: The Jerry Herman Songbook.

Mr. Herman, of course, is the composer of Broadway hits including Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles. The new revue features Broadway luminaries Donna McKechnie (A Chorus Line) and Martin Vidnovic and on-the-move director Joey McNeely (choreographer for shows including Smoky Joe's Cafi).

So when Mr. Korbee says they're hoping for Broadway, it's not much of a reach. “There are strong CCM connections in the cast,” Mr. Korbee e-mailed. “Me, Martin and Paul Gilger who conceived the show.”

Orphan Train: If you loved classical/country musical goof Cowgirls at Ensemble Theatre last season, you might want to mark Oct. 21 on your calendar. That's the evening of the “staged singing” of Orphan Train in ETC's Theatre of the Mind play reading series.

Mary Murfitt, who wrote the music and lyrics for Cowgirls, and co-starred as violin/fiddle playing Mary Lou, is the author of Orphan Train, which is inspired by real people and events in her home state Kansas.

The story is based on a well-intentioned plan from a century ago, t hat took orphaned, abandoned or homeless children from the tenements of New York to be placed in the wholesome Midwest with farm families. Often the children became not family members but unpaid laborers.

“I've been thinking about it for 10 years,” Ms. Murfitt told The Enquirer last spring. “Kansas was a primary stop on the route and there were eight orphan train children in my home town ( Lindsborg), which had a total population of about 2,000.”

Orphan Train had a workshop last summer at Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach, Calif. Now ETC will continue its development.

Ms. Murfitt is in town this week. She'll lead a free playwrights workshop at 2 p.m. Saturday at the theater (1127 Vine St.) The Theatre of the Mind reading is at 7 p.m. Oct. 21. Admission $5. Call the box off ice at 421-3555 for reservations.

Budget battle: Sunset Players is presenting the dramatic comedy A Thousand Clowns, but these days the big drama is off-stage.

The players are awaiting the city budget (expected next month) with baited breath, reports John Wesseling, longtime Sunset member. The theater is housed in Dunham Recreation Complex, part of Cincinnati Recreation Commission.

The commission has already taken one hit. Last month it lost its federal funding for its innovative Arts For All program, whichoperated out of Dunham Arts Center. With the city wrestling its way toward a balanced budget, the rec commission has drawn up scenarios for 3, 5 and 8.5 and percent budget cuts. If the cut is 5 percent or more, Dunham's art building, on the border of Westwood and West Pri ce Hill, is on the list of locations to be closed.

“The community is rallying around us,” says Mr. Wesseling, who is also president of Dunham's advisory board, “but the only way to save it and the other four centers slated to close is to convince City Council that recreation and the arts are more important than ever.

“I've seen what a difference recreation programs can make in the lives of under-advantaged children who have come through Dunham.”

Opening elsewhere isn't an option, sighs Mr. Wesseling. Sunset is “experiencing what other groups are experiencing — the graying of community theater... Sunset has the manpower to continue putting on quality seasons at the arts building, but we don't have the manpower to pick up and move to a place where we have to build sets off site, load them in, move out and start the process again.

“The same thing is killing other groups right now.”

A Thousand Clowns, from way back when and about an out-of-work bachelor uncle and his precocious nephew, continues through next Sunday. Tickets: 588-4988.


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