May 8th, 2009 By | Arts | Posted In: Television

Taking the Stage ... Anywhere But Cincinnati


You know that friend who gets sweaty and angry and tense whenever someone says something bad about Cincinnati? The friend who will defend it like King Arthur defended Camelot, not only the city itself but the idea of it? I'm that guy. 

I will Wiki whatever city you grew up in and show you point by point why Cincinnati is better. "But adult internet star Raven Riley is from Middletown and did you know that the Cincinnati Public Library is arguably the largest public library in the country?" I say, scrambling for anything that might appeal to the Cincinnati-hater.

Last night was the season finale of Taking the Stage, the Cincinnati-based docu-drama about students at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. I've officially watched two episodes of the show (the first and last) and am therefore unqualified to comment on the quality and/or relevance of the content.

*Spoiler Alert: I will mention things that happened in the final episode of this series. If you were too busy doing blow or fashioning badminton shuttlecocks by hand last night to watch the show, quit reading now*

I am, however, entitled to bitch. In both the first and last episodes, there were angsty scenes in which our main characters would solemnly commit themselves to leaving Cincinnati at all costs.

In the finale, one of TTS's main characters, Mia, travels to New York to audition for Jive Records. And another main character, Tyler, auditions for the dance agency BLOC. Both state that these auditions could be their ticket out of Cincinnati, like Cincinnati is Bumfuck Arkansas. Like if they don't make it, they'll have a go into coal mines to support their siblings.

If it weren't for Cincinnati and SCPA, you people wouldn't be courted by big-name labels and agency.

Cincinnati MADE you, show some damn respect.

So here is my dirty little secret: I wasn't born in the city, I was born in Deer Park. I wasn't raised in the city, I was raised in West Chester. And ... shhhhh ... I don't actually, technically "live" in the city at this particular time. I live in Hamilton (which I call North-Northside or H-Town depending on the day), but I do work in city. I KNOW! "How can you even talk? You don't know what it's like." But the thing is I do. I've worked on and off in downtown since my first internship in college. If I had the money, I'd be down here now. This city is why I pursued journalism in college, and this city is what makes me wake up in the morning.

Do you know how infuriating it is to hear someone talking about how they're willing to do ANYTHING to leave a place that you've fought so hard to get to? So you're telling me you'd sell your soul and the rights to several of your orifices to leave here? I just spent the last six years busting my ass to get here. It's like being told your favorite shirt makes you look fat or your college mentor is actually a douche. The fact is, the people who live here don't know how good they have it.

Cincinnati has a public transit system and, deplorable as it might be, it exists. You have museums and a ballet and an opera and several theaters. You have a mix of cultures. You have the SCPA! The first time I heard about it, it was as if someone were describing a rainbow to a blind man. "Wait, wait," I'd say. "You mean the young people are taught art and music and dance in a regular school? Tell me again about how they encourage creativity."

Time for my second dirty secret, I haven't really traveled that much. "Who are you to say that New York, L.A., Chicago and Seattle aren't awesome if you haven't been there?" I know, I know, I humbly submit to your point. I went away for college to Bowling Green, Ky. (If you try to argue that Bowling Green is better than Cincinnati, I will lick my palm and slap your face.) My dad lives out west, so I've been there. But, no, I haven't been to any of the big metro areas in the country. But here's how they go in my head:

New York: An entire city that acts as if they are stuck in rush hour traffic on I-75.

Chicago: A really big Cincinnati with a lake instead of river — it's the Midwest, people, give me a break.

L.A: Either a pretentious version of Mount Adams with really nice weather or Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones' personal hell.

Seattle: If Northside and Clifton mated, had a ton of babies, moved to a rainforest and started growing weed.

See, I'm ignorant. I don't know. But my main argument isn't that those places suck — it's that Cincinnati is pretty cool, too. I can honestly say almost everyone I know has been given a fair shake in the 'Nati. I think our talent might be slightly under-appreciated but never ignored.

In the season finale of the show, Mia is told by Jive that she's not ready to be signed but that they'll continue following her. Tyler is given the opportunity to be signed but smartly decides to stay at SCPA for his last year of high school. I wish you the best of luck guys, but in the meantime, look around you.

Mia, come to CityBeat in a couple months and I'll personally buy you a wristband for MPMF. If you didn't go last year, it will show you that there is a support system for local musicians. Tyler, you're in a hotbed of dance education. There are tons of studios you could teach at right out of high school. Just remember your roots, guys — we'll be here when NYC doesn't work out.

I'd like to think that our successful stars, the ones who did make it, keep coming to Cincinnati because they love it and appreciate it. Knowing that Sarah Jessica Parker visits here and downs cheese coneys makes me proud. Knowing that Nick Lachey wanted to base a reality series at SCPA makes me almost like the guy.

But here's the truth of it, the reason why I'll probably die here: This is where the fight is at. The hippies run Seattle, the urbanites have New York, but Cincinnati is and always has been a battleground. We connected the North and South. We have conservatives and liberals. We have P&G and Park Vine. We have Bill Cunningham and Larry Flynt. We have The Enquirer and CityBeat.

Nobody wants to miss a good fight.

05.08.2009 at 10:43 Reply
Cameron, while I understand your arguments, you are looking at it from a very journalist-centric point of view. While opportunities exist for actors, singers, and other entertainers in Cincinnati, it's not the "big time". Chicago, New York and Los Angeles all are hubs of national media. TV and movie studios are based there, and do most of their filming locally. If you weren't assigned to cover them, and didn't know them personally, could you name me 5 local bands/musicians, actors, dancers or playwrights? Are there any national TV shows that are broadcast from here? Can you name more than a few major movies that were filmed here in the last 10 years? In your defense, there are plenty of opportunities that young entertainers overlook on their way up. And when the opportunities aren't there, I would encourage people to MAKE them for themselves. But everyone wants to be a star overnight. American Idol has told the country that there's no need to work in dive bars, get ripped off by club owners, sleep in a van with your bandmates and all of your equipment because you didn't make enough for a hotel room AND gas... you don't have to pay your dues, just have Simon Cowell insult you the least, and you're a star. But ultimately to get to the "next level", entertainers will have to leave Cincinnati. Sad but true.


05.08.2009 at 11:00 Reply
"But here's the truth of it, the reason why I'll probably die here: this is where the fight is at." BOOM! That is the tagline. Print it, Ship it, Shove it down their throats until they choke! Great Post!


05.10.2009 at 10:25 Reply
Cameron, You are so wrong about so many things in this, I feel pity. See, you have to see it from where they're at and what they are trying to do. Yes, Cincinnati is a great place and it should be respected on all levels. But these kids, yes they are STILL kids, are searching for their path, cuz ya know, it's THEIR LIFE. (Not somebody who grew up in East Hamilton and BG KY.) If it includes college, many of them will want to go somewhere they can experience something different, just for that reason. Why didn't you stay in town and go to Miami U. at Hamilton? (BTW, I'm not sure if BG KY is really offering you anything too different, BUT it IS a very nice place. And I'm not slamming your choice, just making a point.) But even more importantly, these kids are trying to be performing artists. All of those people who have tried to make it in performing arts (not rock bands) know, Cincinnati is one tough nut to crack for many reasons. Many professional theaters wants to hire union people, but the system is set up where just to get in a union you have to have so many "points" earned by working in this or that sanctioned theater. There are a limited number of theaters in town to get that experience. If you did some polling of the local theaters, you'd find how most of the cast aren't from Cincinnati, rather they are hired in just for that season or show. If you look at professional dance theaters, there are even fewer opportunities. Opera? How many local kids get into the Cincinnati Opera regularly who didn't train and travel elsewhere in world? Don't even mention the CSO. Face it, the professional arts orgs here aren't looking specifically for home grown talent. That's not their job. They want to find the best they can afford, period. I think CCM and DAAP are an incredible colleges for all types of arts. As with everything, the experience is what you make of it and there are some folks who really shine out of the gate once they graduate. But for many, they have to go where the opportunities are and sometimes the right opportunity for that particular person might not be here. My sister had a BS in theater from Wittenberg and a MS in acting from Akron. Not your top flight theater programs but she did her time and was good at her craft. She couldn't get any job in Cincinnati beyond community theater. That's pretty crushing for someone who wants to live here, but has studied to be an actor. She moved to NYC and found work within a month. She moved to Minneapolis and found work within a month. I meet all kinds of CCM jazz musicians, most of whom move away within the first two years after graduation. Why? I don't know. I always believe with their art they should be able to organize performances, venues, and recordings right here in town and market things themselves. But at their age I think they need to learn how to do that and they aren't finding the experience here in Cincinnati. And how many performing artists of any kind can actually live in a city and make a living doing their art there 365 days a year, every year? Most have to travel to a city where they can get hired or go on tour for a few months. You don't see bands like The Sundresses just playing gigs in town only. You can get to the "next level" here. It's just a slim few who can do it. For everybody else who works at a computer all day and then wants nice restaurants, movie theaters, museums, etc. I think Cincinnati is the shzzl.


05.12.2009 at 02:23
I love Cincinnati. I'm glad to be based here (well, Northern KY), but, I also have accepted the fact that if I intend to keep this as my "home" and make it as a performer, I'll have to be willing to travel and spend a lot of time away from my home and family. Thanks for echoing my sentiments and allowing me to have more confidence in my sanity.


05.12.2009 at 03:43 Reply
Just to clarify, I'm not against "making it big" somewhere else. I'm not against moving away. I'm not even against moving to the four places I cruelly named. It just drives me nuts when people make it seem like Cincinnati is some shithole. How will we ever earn national respect if we don't respect ourselves? I hope that the kids in Taking The Stage get signed to awesome contracts in New York and L.A., and if they do, I just hope they represent. Represent our city and possibly, when they look back, remember it as a great birth place for their creativity, not some trap they managed to escape.


05.12.2009 at 06:14 Reply
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Knight, for expressing so well my daily sentiment. As an 18-year-old brainwashed by MTV and all the possibility that lay beyond the Midwest, I trash-talked Cincinnati and moved to Boston for college. But soon the pile of garbage I had created transformed into a mound of pride. This city is by no means perfect, but by golly, it's home, and the people are first rate. I return for good next week...by choice. And you won't hear me utter a condescending word. Maybe we all require some distance to gain perspective.