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Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati 2.0

By Rick Pender · April 24th, 2012 · Curtain Call
Things ain’t what they used to be at Ensemble Theatre. A decade ago 1127 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine was near ground zero for some of the city’s worst behavior — drug-dealing, shootings, arrests and police controversy. During the 2001 riots, artistic director D. Lynn Meyers and the cast of a show she was rehearsing had to be barricaded and locked into the theater for their own safety.

This is no longer the case for the area. ETC celebrated its 25th anniversary during its 2010-2011 season, now surrounded by trendy restaurants and friendly residents, thanks to the ongoing renaissance of Over-the-Rhine. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the restaurants and shops and the theater: They mutually promote one another, and people now routinely come to the neighborhood for a complete evening of dining followed by a show and perhaps a drink afterwards. Believe it or not, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings there’s valet parking service on Vine Street, one block north of the theater. What a difference a decade has made.

“We are thrilled that with so many improvements in the Over-the-Rhine Gateway Quarter over just the past few years, along with the renovation of Washington Park, there is so much renewed energy in the area and it makes sense to plan for ETC’s next chapter,” Meyers says. 

The theater is sprucing up and making some improvements of its own. During the next few weeks, the building’s façade at 1127 Vine St. will be repainted and enhanced with prominent banners to improve ETC’s street presence and assist patrons in finding the theater. “This will especially help to draw new patrons who might not be as familiar with our performing space or are unaware of the range of programs and ticket options we offer,” Meyers says. 

“We’re truly honored to share this neighborhood with a wide variety of unique restaurants and shops that have shaped the character and interest in Over-the-Rhine.

We hope this next step for Ensemble Theatre will not only propel us forward, but will also contribute substantially to the Gateway Quarter’s value, stability and appeal to residents and visitors.”

The changes don’t stop with paint and banners, however. In fact, Meyers’ theater has revised its name, dropping the preposition “of”: Henceforward, it’s Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, a change backed by a new brand identity, developed by Cincinnati-based design and marketing firm, LPK. It includes a new logo as well as a more user-friendly website, now found at www.ensemblecincinnati.org. In addition to information about shows — ETC offers six productions annually, more than 140 performances attracting 30,000 patrons — the new website will also let patrons know where they can dine, shop and relax as part of their visit to the theater. 

“Over-the-Rhine is now a whole-day experience,” Meyers says. “Not only can you attend the theater, but you also can dine at any number of great new restaurants, shop for gifts, grab a drink after a show or take an historic tour, all without having to move your car — or bicycle!”

She puts ETC in the context of the neighborhood. “We have consistently challenged ourselves as artists, producers and educators to become better and to explore new ways of presenting the best contemporary plays. However, we also need to take the excitement that happens onstage outside of our front door,” she says. 

If OTR is a “whole-day” experience, ETC can offer a “whole-evening” experience. The quality of the company’s productions has been extraordinarily high for several seasons, and Meyers boasts that many of her subscribers renew annually even before she announces which shows will be onstage. That’s a remarkable vote of confidence. 

This season opened with the regional premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical next to normal. (This was, in fact, its first production in the U.S. outside of New York City following an award-winning run there.) It did so well that Meyers decided to bring it back for a brief summertime revival, June 15-July 1. 

The current season has also included compelling productions of a thoughtful drama about literary creativity, Ghost-Writer; the regional premiere of The Whipping Man, a powerful historical drama; and another award-winning drama, Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still. Things lighten up in May with Life Could Be a Dream, a sequel to ETC’s big hit, The Marvelous Wonderettes, full of classic Pop hits from the 1960s. (Meyers plans to announce her 2012-2013 season on Sunday; look for information on the staff blog at www.citybeat.com.)

Isn’t it time that you checked out ETC? It’s a whole new experience.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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