I could have said good-bye the other day when I caught outgoing Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival (CSF) Producing Artistic Director Jasson Minadakis at a Seventh Street coffee bar, but I decided against it. The words were too painful to utter.
Minadakis' departure had been announced a few days earlier, despite the fact that he co-founded the eight-year-old theater company. His current plan to expand CSF programming with edgy, contemporary fare had grown too costly. Recent productions like Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train and Chagrin Falls were audience busts.
Ultimately, it didn't matter if the plays were artistic successes. Minadakis' plans to take CSF to the next level were scuttled for a cost-saving return to a safe program of audience-friendly Shakespeare favorites. As a result, he'll be on the outside looking in at the institution he built from scratch.
On a cold weekday afternoon, Minadakis tells me he supported the board's decision to drastically cut back company expenses. Like a lot of young adults in the creative community, he also tells me he hadn't planned to stay much longer in Cincinnati. He has career goals and personal challenges that require a change of scenery. Finally, he assures me he's not bitter.
Personally, I don't buy any of it. Minadakis' public relations chit-chat still rings false, no matter how much forced sincerity he piles onto his words. Tucked inside our impromptu conversation lies his truthful feelings.
"Do you know after 6 o'clock on weekends you can't even buy a pack of cigarettes downtown?" Minadakis tells me. This bit of news is important because he's a non-stop smoker who can often be found puffing away outside CSF's Race Street lobby.
Minadakis might have been talking about packs of smokes, but he really meant something bigger and far more important. Downtown is at a crossroads, and he sees few signs of recovery. Of course, in a matter of weeks, he'll be somewhere else and Cincinnati's lethargic core will be left for the rest of us to address.
If I had the chance to buy more CSF tickets, I would do so in a heartbeat if it meant giving the theater company a shot at artistic growth. CityBeat and CSF both came onto the local scene around the same time. In some ways, we've grown up together.
I'd like to tell Minadakis not to lose faith in Cincinnati, but I don't think he'd buy it. Personally, I don't blame him.
Locals tout CSF as one of the city's cultural success stories, a homegrown theater company that steadily grew to sit at the table with larger institutions like the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Opera and Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. Minadakis' departure and CSF's drastic downsizing send a different, hard-knock message. His exit tells us Cincinnati's arts community is not as deep and supportive as we like to think it is. The old money is completely allocated to long-standing organizations. There's no one new on the scene willing to step forward and support Minadakis' vision for a bolder CSF.
No one will stop Minadakis from leaving. His story with the CSF ends like this: Cincinnati isn't a place to make one's artistic dreams come true.
I didn't say good-bye to Minadakis during our last conversation. Instead, I promised to call him after things settle down over the next few days. He can tell me his future plans over lunch. I'll remind him to stay in touch, no matter where he moves.
It's a conversation I'm tired of having with creative young adults. In my eyes, Cincinnati is becoming bleaker than ever, and the fact that you can't buy cigarettes downtown on weekend evenings is just part of the dismal package.