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More Than the Sum of the Parts

By Rick Pender · November 6th, 2012 · Curtain Call

Two weeks ago I wrote about Know Theatre’s plans to work with other theater companies, locally and nationally, to create new works. Collaboration is the byword for many arts organizations today, especially theaters where financial support is tough to obtain and ticket revenues are seldom enough to support the cost of productions. By working together, economies can be achieved and, in some cases, multiple constituencies can be activated.

An obvious example of collaboration is the long-standing relationship between Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Over a 20-year stretch the two theaters have co-produced 48 shows, including the current production of Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (staged by Steve Woolf, the artistic director in St. Louis) and Double Indemnity next spring. In the Brighton Beach program, Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison and Managing Director Buzz Ward jointly write, “Both theaters have been able to create much more art for our audiences than either of us could have done separately.”

Covington’s Carnegie Center operates on a modest budget that makes it tough to mount its own productions. But by creatively partnering with others, producer Joshua Steele has assembled a satisfying array of programming, including the current world premiere of Michael Slade’s new play, Under a Red Moon. (Review here.) The psychological show was fully staged at Dayton’s Human Race Theatre in October then moved in its entirety — three professional actors and dingy prison-cell set where a serial killer is interrogated — to Covington for a three-week run this month. It’s a smart use of resources and an opportunity for local audiences to see a show that the Carnegie probably would not have tackled on its own. 

In January, Steele will work again with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Mischa Santora for a concert production of Lerner and Loewe’s beloved King Arthur musical, Camelot (Jan.

24-Feb. 13, 2013). This marks the third year for the partnership, giving the Carnegie an orchestra beyond what it could assemble for a production. It also supplements the Carnegie’s audience with followers of the CCO. The Carnegie and the orchestra have previously teamed for Carousel and The King and I. In April the musical theater program at College-Conservatory of Music will travel from UC’s campus to Covington for a three-week run of Jason Robert Brown’s 1998 Tony Award-winning musical Parade, staged by local team Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll. In 2007, they co-directed a powerful community theater rendition of the show about anti-Semitic prejudice in 1913 Atlanta. Featuring technical and musical resources from CCM as well as its talented musical theater students, this promises to be a must-see event available for a longer run than usual with CCM studio productions, typically offered for just one weekend.

Students from Northern Kentucky University and CCM often expand their performance options by performing on local stages. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s popular productions of The Marvelous Wonderettes (and a series of sequels) featured current students and recent graduates, as did the 2011-2012 staging of next to normal, with young performers plus NKU faculty member Mark Hardy. ETC’s staging of Life Could Be a Dream (the boys’ version of Wonderettes), used actors from CCM and Wright State. Know Theatre’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson earlier this year would have been unlikely without students from local training programs. In addition, Aubrey Berg and Richard Hess from CCM have directed shows for ETC.

Know Theatre’s Artistic Director Eric Vosmeier says his company’s 2010 production of Tony Kushner’s monumental Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes (Millennium Approaches is Part I; Perestroika is Part II) would have been impossible without the broader resources of Cincinnati’s theater community. While not a co-production, Angels was a collaborative effort of artists associated with many Cincinnati theaters. Cincinnati Shakespeare’s artistic director, Brian Phillips, directed Millennium, while Drew Fracher, a frequent guest director (Know, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati) and fight choreographer (Cincinnati Playhouse, Cincy Shakes) staged Perestroika. The cast of eight featured two local Equity actors, Amy Warner and Michael Bath, who have performed with several local companies, and others regularly onstage at ETC and Cincy Shakes. 

Vosmeier says more than 100 artists and technicians collaborated to stage that gargantuan undertaking. The Cincinnati Playhouse is the only local theater that could have assembled such resources individually, but Kushner’s sprawling works did not fit the company’s annual map of productions. That’s why it took the collective effort of theaters, actors, designers, backstage workers and more to bring this off. And that’s the sign of a serious theater scene — and why it’s great to watch theater in Cincinnati.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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