My recent vacation to Brussels afforded only one theater visit, but it really set me to thinking. After several days of tasting Belgian beers and chocolate, I needed to sit in the dark for some mental stimulation. However, my French is rusty and my Flemish is nonexistent. So a theater piece with no spoken words was a perfect choice. It was offered as part of THEATER OP DE MIDDAG at Brussels' Palais des Beaux-Arts. "De Middag" means at "midday" -- Sanne van Rijn's Omvallen started at 12:40 p.m. The performance offered approximately 50 minutes of highly choreographed movement featuring two actresses from the University of Ghent. Initially unaware of one another, the two eventually entered into increasingly interactive patterns that proved both amusing and poignant -- not to mention comically reminiscent of farce with doors opening and closing and actions that circle back and reverse one another. (In Flemish "omvallen" means "to turn over.") So what has this to do with Cincinnati? I picked up three lessons: (1) Theater like Omvallen has universal appeal, offering a common ground of communications that transcends language. Perhaps a few such productions could be recruited for future Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. (2) Theatrical productions during the week need not be limited to evening performances.
Omvallen attracted more than 100 people at lunchtime on a Monday in the center of a city of comparable size to Cincinnati. (3) Know Theatre should pay special attention to this concept for its new facility at 1120 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine, especially its small, street-level stage. Know is launching an "Underground" series of such works (closely allied to the Fringe Festival, which is now a project of Know Theatre), and it will be occasionally presenting more experimental works under this umbrella. It's a way to audition local acts or showcase traveling performers who can't be here during the festival's typical June dates. But how about offering some of these "at midday," expanding exposure for their venue to an audience of downtown and OTR workers and perhaps students from the nearby Art Academy? How about "Brown Bag Theater" where those attending would bring their own lunches with the certainty they could be in and out in, say, 45 minutes? With solid marketing, I envision a strong following for this approach. Omvallen was about "turning over." Maybe it's also an inspiration to try something new. ...
Since I was momentarily confused by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati's revised calendar, let me remind you that their regional premiere of Michele Lowe's STRING OF PEARLS opens on Wednesday. ETC's original season brochure had the season's second show starting on Oct. 25, but that's been changed. It also closes on Nov. 5 rather than Nov. 12. ...
Wouldn't a FREE NIGHT OF THEATER be a great thing? It's happening in a lot of cities on Thursday. Jim Stump from the League of Cincinnati Theatres tells me it's under consideration for local audiences for the fall of 2007. Developed by TCG (Theatre Communications Group, a national association for not-for-profit theaters), the campaign is an effort to attract new audiences to live theater. Participating theaters make available free single tickets for one performance (after subscribers' needs have been fulfilled) -- at least 25 percent of their seats is the guideline. Last year, when the program was piloted in Austin, Philadelphia and San Francisco, more than 8,000 people attended 150 performances. Roughly 80 percent of those who attended had never before been to the specific theaters previously, and 33 percent of them returned to purchase tickets to another performance. Those numbers should grow considerably this year. TCG's vision is to roll out the campaign nationwide in October 2007. It's a great idea, and I'm sure it will be embraced by theaters and audiences here in Cincinnati.
contact rick Pender: rpender(at)citybeat.com
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