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Performances of a Lifetime

By John Fox · February 4th, 2009 · Editorial

All the world’s a stage, a famous writer once said, and we’re simply players on it. We have our exits and entrances, taking on many roles throughout our lives.

The stage we play on today is Over-the-Rhine, the oldest, most abused and most misunderstood neighborhood in Greater Cincinnati. A cast of thousands awaits.

There are the people who live in Over-the-Rhine because they always have and others who can’t find any place better. Some live there for the history and architecture, others for the proximity to work. Some don’t live there at all but wander around in search of a hot meal and a warm bed.

Some businesses have been in Over-the-Rhine for generations, and others opened last month. Some organizations use corporate dollars to rehab buildings there, and other organizations scrape for donations and volunteers.

Some cultural institutions were born and raised in Over-the-Rhine, like Music Hall and the current School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), and others moved there to be near like-minded groups, like the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the new SCPA.

Some people envision Over-the-Rhine as having the potential to become Cincinnati’s French Quarter, a historic district adjacent to downtown that’s mostly residential and appealing to tourists and locals alike.

The task of focusing the area on a positive future is daunting, to be sure, with “positive future” meaning different things to the current residents and the Powers That Be.

In fact, for most of its recent history the neighborhood has been Cincinnati’s Ninth Ward, not its French Quarter. People have disappeared from Over-the-Rhine — slowly over the decades instead of suddenly after a hurricane — leaving behind empty buildings, vacant lots, crime and despair.

One of the bright spots has been the neighborhood’s arts organizations, which continued to attract visitors even as the residential population dwindled. How many went there only to see something at Music Hall or Ensemble Theatre (ETC) or to attend a Final Friday at the galleries?

In particular, ETC and Know Theatre offered season after season of exciting new plays that often tackled the very issues Over-the-Rhine was dealing with daily. They employed local actors, directors and set designers and breathed life into a tough neighborhood.

Then Know moved a few years ago to the other side of the new Kroger garage and New Stage Collective took over an upstairs loft two blocks away, and Over-the-Rhine had a bona fide theater community. Just in time to ride the latest wave of Over-the-Rhine’s “rebirth” but also in time to face being swamped by the economic meltdown.

As I explain in “Gems of the Neighborhood”, the artistic leaders of these companies — Jason Bruffy at Know, Alan Patrick Kenny at New Stage Collective and Lynn Meyers at ETC — offer energy, creativity and soul that help turn a collection of buildings into a community. They deserve our recognition and our thanks for playing their parts so well.

CONTACT JOHN FOX: jfox@citybeat.com



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