The Cincinnati Squash Academy is an urban squash program operating out of the Emmanuel Community Center in Over-the-Rhine where there are three brand new courts and a learning center. “We are aiming to blend squash and academics into one cohesive unit,” says Austin Schiff, executive director of CSA. The goal is to use squash as a motivation tool to keep kids accelerating their education.
Since the second grade, Schiff has played squash, a racket sport that has been around for more than 100 years. The game is played on a four-walled court with two or four players and a hollow rubber ball. CSA is the only urban squash program in Cincinnati and recruits from four low-income schools: Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School, Hays-Porter Elementary, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy’s Otto Armleder School and St. Joseph School.
“We go into the school and do a presentation,” Schiff explains. “They sign up if they're interested and then they can come and try-out.” Try-outs can take four to seven months. Students begin at the bronze level to see if they fit well with the program; at silver they begin to track attendance and do a home visit to ensure the family is supportive and sees a future for their child in the program. Once a student reaches the gold level, they are fully enrolled in CSA and have complete access to all the resources, trips and the summer program. Try-outs are so extensive because it is very important that each accepted student succeeds in the program. “We want to be selective of the kids and families that we choose, knowing that this isn’t just a six-month fad,” Schiff says. He wants to find kids that are committed to staying in the program through high school.
CSA puts a major focus on school success along with learning squash. Kids come three times a week and their time is divided. Half the day is spent on the court and the other half is in the learning center working on homework and special projects. Rachel Parker, the academic director, works hard to help the students find their personal interests through different classroom projects and field trips. They have taken trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum and practiced gardening on Earth Day. “At heart we are an education program,” Schiff says “To the public we are squash, but it’s really much more than that.”
The main goal is not to train world-renowned squash players, but simply to provide education and motivation and to make sure the kids make it to college. They start preparing kids freshman year or earlier for college by exploring resume building, the application process and understanding financial aid. CSA took a group to Boston last year for an urban squash competition at Harvard University. When they weren’t playing, the students toured Harvard's campus. “A year ago, to them, squash was a vegetable or what you do to a roach on the family rug,” Schiff says. “Now they are on the all-glass show court at Harvard University playing a very traditionally high-class, high-brow sport.
Currently CSA has 20-30 volunteers. Volunteers help on the court every day at practice. Experienced squash volunteers — the more skilled, the better — are invited to come and teach kids the meticulous technique that is so important to the game. You can do this during the school year or come for the 4-week summer program.
They need tutors in the classrooms and to chaperone trips. Schiff is looking for people who care and can connect with the kids. Volunteers as young as 12 can help in the learning center. “We want people who just love being with kids and want to push them to succeed,” Schiff says.
All volunteers must pass a background check.
There is a big CSA fundraiser happening in April. Corporate sponsors are needed to provide squash supplies. Because all the athletic equipment is donated, rackets, goggles, shoes and squash balls are always in demand.
Basic school supplies like paper, pencils, dry-erase markers and a lot of disinfecting wipes are helpful in the learning center. CSA provides snacks for the students but haven’t had any luck getting a grant for fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy snacks would be a great donation, but be mindful of students with allergies to peanuts and red dye.
The organization has its offices, referred to as the bunker, in the basement of the Emmanuel Community Center. The bunker is safe from nuclear fallout, but unfortunately is not very home-like. Schiff is looking for plants and art to spruce the place up. The office could also use a working copy machine because theirs recently broke.
Looking for some good theater this weekend? There’s plenty to choose from on Cincinnati stages.
Last evening I was at the Cincinnati Playhouse for the opening performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’ve read Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or seen the classic film starring Gregory Peck, you know the story. But I bet you’ve never seen it quite the way Playhouse Associate Artist Eric Ting has staged this one. Reminiscent of Our Town, it’s played out on an all-but-bare stage — no scenery, minimal props — just great storytelling acting, including a lot of local professionals: Dale Hodges, Annie Fitzpatrick, Torie Wiggins, Ken Early, Barry Mulholland, Jared Joplin, Randy Bailey and three sensational kids. The set is deceptively simple, but used very effectively with Ting choreographing the action using two concentric “revolves,” atmospheric lighting and sound effects. The Playhouse clearly has a winner with this production. It just opened and the demand for tickets is already so strong that it’s been extended to April 10, a week beyond the initially announced closing. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
When you put together a songwriting team like Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (the guys behind Fiddler on the Roof) and a writer like Joe Masteroff (he also wrote the script for Cabaret), the results ought to be good. And they were in 1963 when She Loves Me debuted on Broadway. Set in a 1930s perfumery, it’s about two shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who don’t see eye to eye; both lonely and yearning for love, they unwittingly end up as pen-pals — and a warm-hearted comic romance ensues. (Sound familiar? It’s also the story of the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan hit film from 1998, You’ve Got Mail.) She Loves Me was revived on Broadway in 1993, and there’s a current production of it w by Roundabout Theatre Company. But you don’t have to travel to New York City to enjoy this charming show, since it’s onstage at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts through April 3. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
There are numerous whiffs of Fringe shows in the air this weekend. Beertown continues at Know Theatre through March 19, a concept brought to town by dog & pony dc, a group that’s performed more than once at Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. This one is an exercise in civics that happens to be highly entertaining, as a small town decides which items to keep or replace in a time capsule that’s reviewed every five years. Audiences get to join the conversation — and they do. With a cast featuring a lot of local improv and acting talent, Beertown is a thoroughly entertaining production, and it can go in different directions every time it’s performed. Know is also presenting a double bill of two past Fringe award winners — Petunia and Chicken from Animal Engine and Edgar Allan from the Coldharts. The former is a story of love and loss inspired by the works of Midwestern Prairie author Willa Cather; two actors play all the parts piece. Edgar Allan was inspired by imagining the boyhood of Edgar Allan Poe. If you missed these shows during the 2013 and 2015 festivals, you can see them at Know’s Jackson Street theater on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Tickets, for one or both shows, which are both presented each evening: 513-300-5669 or at the door.
If you’re still pining for Fringe-styled shows, try Transmigration 2016 at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, featuring student-created works presented tonight and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. This annual event by CCM’s drama program features teams of actors who write, promote, stage and perform a handful of 30-minute shows. For 2016 the titles are “Elliot Popkin: The Best Friends I Never Had,” “The Elephant in the Room,” “The Family,” “Colony Collapse Disorder,” “Vices” and “A Brief Eternity.” Show up for an evening and dash around the CCM complex to see four of these unpredictable but wildly creative pieces. Admission is free, but reservations are required: 513-556-4183.
Also at CCM: The thrashing, pulsating production of American Idiot continues through Sunday at Patricia Corbett Theater on the UC campus. If you’re a fan of Punk Rock (the show is a stage version of Green Day’s 2004 recording), this is the show for you … Prefer something more sedate? Head downtown for Cincinnati Shakespeare’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, which continues through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Surrounded by books, pamphlets and zine titles such as Noodle Doodle Coloring Book, never date dudes from the internet and How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Control, Luke Kindle looks up from his nook in Wave Pool art gallery to cars whizzing past the window through the Camp Washington neighborhood.One half of the husband-and-wife team that founded the gallery, Cal Cullen, enters the gallery with a mug of coffee for Kindle. Her 18-month-old daughter Alice toddles not far behind, ready to run around the gallery. The furry pink rug underneath the swinging pink monkey sculpture is calling her name.
Skip Cullen joins his family in the gallery and tells me that Alice is obsessed with the furry pink monkey piece, otherwise known as “Not My Circus” by Pam Kravetz. Watching Alice run and dance around the gallery, it seems to be the most whimsical playground a toddler could ask for. It is also the site of Wave Pool’s current exhibit, Cincinnati 5: Artists Impacting the Community.
The exhibit complements the newly released book of the same title by Emily Moores, which explores the practice of five local visual artists and highlights their connections to the city. The gallery features new works from each of the artists, not only as a glimpse into their studios, but also as a celebration of the local visual arts community.
Skip says the goal of Wave Pool is to elevate the arts scene in Cincinnati. The contemporary art fulfillment center hosts eight exhibits per year, which pair local artists with national and internationally recognized artists. The center consists of art studios, a woodshop and other spaces community spaces that can be rented out for private events.
Wave Pool is also the site of a small shop of quirky reading material. In addition to art books that complement the exhibitions, there is an array of humorous titles to choose from. “We also wanted to be a weird, indie book place,” Skip says.
Kindle, a fine arts student at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, tells me he plans to reads all of them over the summer when he isn’t busy with school.
After meeting as graduate students at DAAP, the Cullens say they always had the dream to open a gallery together. While they lived in San Francisco for five years, they came back to Cincinnati to start the gallery. The couple agrees that there are not enough opportunities for local artists in Cincinnati, and they started Wave Pool to create more.
Despite being located in an old firehouse, Cal and Skip say what makes Wave Pool unique is the artist in residency program, which pays two artists per year to engage with the community in a unique way. The residency application is open to everyone, and the committee chooses artists based on how they will engage the community.
This year’s artists in residence are Sam Ihrig and Anna Riley from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Valerie Molnar and Matt Spahr from Richmond, Va.
Ihrig and Riley will bring their RIAS Studio (Research Institute of Analog Sampling), a project based on the origins and production of glass, to Wave Pool in May. RIAS Studio will explore the intimacy between maker and material and material and place through creating glass pieces specifically for Wave Pool from regionally and locally harvested materials.
The studio will also host a community workshop in which participants can join a
geological expedition to identify and collect materials to create glass. They
can then create their own formula in the studio and keep their unique Ohio
Cal says Wave Pools looks for experimental art, such as interactive pieces. The gallery looks for work that pushes the envelope of what people believe is art. “Because we are a nonprofit, we’re all about education through art,” she says. While other galleries may look to feature artwork that sells, Wave Pool is dedicated to facilitating the interaction between artists and the local community. She adds that although Cincinnati has many disparate arts communities, Wave Pool is a space where any artist can feel supported.
Take your pick from four wildly different shows on Cincinnati stages this weekend.
For something completely different, check out Beertown at Know Theatre (through March 19). It’s a national touring project by dog & pony dc, a company that was here for several recent Cincinnati Fringes. The show is set in an imagined American town that opens a time capsule every five years to review its “eternal” and “ephemeral” contents. With the exception of dog & pony dc actor Wyckham Avery as the town’s patronizing mayor, the performers are all Cincinnati actors, a majority with significant improv experience. They solemnly execute the “20th quinquennial” ceremony to revise what’s saved and removed, relying on voluntary input from the audience as to what’s most important for the community. The show includes interspersed scenes (injected as “antecedents”) that reveal details of the century-long tradition. Beertown starts out feeling like an amusing Fringe show — artifacts range from serious items such as antique photos and a family bible to trivia such as pink slips and a “jar of smoke” — but by the time it’s over, with some cleverly planted messages from the ably played “townspeople,” you realize you’ve been part of a civic exercise that has depth as it explores just what’s important to a community. Know’s artistic director Andrew Hungerford says, “There’s nothing newer than a show that is created in partnership with the audience each night.” I’m not a fan of theatrical audience participation, but I was surprised and gratified by how Beertown unfolded and landed its messages. By the way, you’re invited to bring desserts to share for the potluck before ceremony begins. Tickets: 513-300-5669.
The Disney musical Newsies, based the 1992 film, is in town through March 13 at the Aronoff Center. The true story is unsubtle and predictable: Downtrodden newsboys in 1899 New York City get fed up with the high-handed ways of arrogant publisher Joseph Pulitzer and go on strike. Their “children’s crusade” wins out and improves conditions for kids who hawked papers on street corners. There’s no question from the outset that these spunky young fellows are going to succeed; Pulitzer is an unadulterated greedy villain, and Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), the Peter Pan-like leader of the boys is played as the hero from the get-go. Nevertheless, Newsies indeed showcases athletic dancing — about 15 high-energy young men who high-kick, cartwheel and back-flip around the stage for more than two hours to imaginative choreography by Christopher Gattelli. The production’s design, big pieces of Erector Set-like structures that double as fire escapes and more, roll into various configurations and provide surfaces for video projections that set the scene. Not profound, but fun to watch. Tickets: 513-621-2787. An additional note: The show’s “newsboys” will present a special evening of song and dance on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. in the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater with the proceeds to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Tickets start at $25: cincinnatiarts.org/newsboys.
For another musical populated by disaffected youth dancing, check out American Idiot at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage at Patricia Corbett Theater, like Newsies, this show is rooted in real events — it opens with ominous video recollections of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s based on Green Day’s 2004 Punk Rock album, full of anger and angst. The show is more impressionistic than narrative following three young men yearning to escape the deadening humdrum of suburbia to do something, be somewhere, where they will feel more real. But crushing reality — ranging from parental responsibility to military service and drug addiction — bears down in depressing ways on them. After pain and searching, they find their way to stasis if not happiness. Along the way, the production, staged by Aubrey Berg with music direction by Steve Goers, pounds out Green Day’s mostly anxious songs; of singular note is CCM senior Samantha Pollino’s thrashing, hair-whipping, fist-punching choreography. One word of caution: This show is no-holds-barred in terms of drug use, sexual content and profanity. But frankly (and I do mean frankly), that’s a big part of what it’s about. It’s onstage through March 13. Tickets: 513-556-4183.
veteran company member Kelly Mengelkoch, Emma (through March 26) lives up to Cincy Shakes previous productions
of stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels — romances, first and foremost,
navigating the ins and outs of love and relationships in the early 19th
century. Austen’s central characters are usually feisty but moral women,
strong-minded and judgmental, and they match up well with the versatile female
talent in Cincy Shakes’ acting company. First and foremost is Courtney Lucien
as Emma Woodhouse, whose confidence in her matchmaking skills puts her in
several pickles with friends and acquaintances as well as personally. The
object of Emma’s plans is the modest Harriet Smith, played by Caitlin McWethy,
who often says as much with demeanor and facial expression as with the words
provided by Jon Jory’s adaptation of the 1813 novel. Despite some derailments
along the way, Emma is awash in wit and good humor. I gave this production a
Critic’s Pick. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is building itself a new home at 12th and Elm streets in Over-the-Rhine. (Construction is already under way.) But before the move, there’s one last season of theater to be produced at 719 Race St., Downtown, the space where the group has performed since the late 1990s but has outgrown.
Brian Phillips, Cincy Shakes’ producing artistic director, says, “Before we go, we have one last season here on Race Street. We will present a slate of titles that are as nostalgic as they are timeless and represent the next phase of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. This is the perfect chance to join us as we bid a fond farewell to Race Street, because this goodbye is only the beginning.”
The season announced today offers nine productions, commencing with a powerful stage adaption of The Diary of Anne Frank (Sept. 9-Oct. 1) featuring Courtney Lucien — currently playing the title role in the current adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma — as the young Jewish girl who records her harrowing story in her diary. Her family’s experience, hiding from Nazi persecutors in an Amsterdam attic, endures as a condemnation of man’s capacity for cruelty and a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. It will be followed by Bernard Pomerance’s award-winning American classic, The Elephant Man (Oct. 14-Nov. 5). Longtime favorite actor Giles Davies will play the deformed central character, Joseph Merrick, and Brent Vimtrup portrays the young doctor who finds an intelligent, sensitive man behind his horrifying disfigurement.
The season’s first Shakespearean production at the classic theater is the romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing (Nov. 18-Dec. 10). It’s about Beatrice and Benedick, a perfectly matched couple who can’t stand each other — a formula for great comedy. More Shakespeare comes in January as Cincy Shakes wraps up the History Cycle, a feat undertaken by just one other theater in the U.S. The presentation in chronological order of Shakespeare’s history plays about the reigns of five British kings and a century of turmoil began in 2013. The concluding elements of this series will be the 2017 productions of Henry VI: The Wars of the Roses, Part 2 (Jan. 20-Feb. 11) followed by the cycle’s thrilling conclusion with the story of England’s most murderous monarch, Richard III (Feb. 17-March 11), played by Billy Chace.
Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece of the American stage, A Raisin in the Sun (March 24-April 15) comes next, about a working class African-American family in 1950s Chicago. A financial windfall opens a door to opportunity, but social pressures undermine their dream. The 1959 play is a classic in every sense of the word.
Cincy Shakes’ final production on the Race Street stage, fittingly, will be Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest (May 5-June 3). Longtime company member Nicholas Rose will play the magician Prospero in a sweet story of revenge, love, magic and redemption.
To add several sparks of hilarity to its final season, Cincy Shakes will present two other shows outside the subscription season. They are All the Great Books (abridged) (July 22-Aug. 13, 2016), another script from the deliriously fevered brains that created The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete History of America and more. They’re calling it a refresher of literature’s greatest hits for “everyone from the illiterate to the literati.” And it wouldn’t be a Cincinnati holiday season without another round of Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) (Dec. 14-31). The 90-minute send up of “Beloved Holiday Classics” returns for the 11th year.
It’s a great send-off for the company, the little literary engine that could, which will open the following season in the new facility in Over-the-Rhine in September 2017.
Tyler Wolf and Lily Turner, co-founders of Urban Blooms, recently built the largest living wall in Ohio. The two Walnut Hills High School graduates started the nonprofit two years ago and have been amazed with the outpouring of support and interest they have seen from Cincinnati communities thus far. Urban Blooms specializes the design, installation and maintenance of indoor and outdoor living walls — functional vertical gardens — as a source of income for other community sustainability projects. One of the organization’s goals for the year is to build at least six more. The living walls are not only aesthetically beautiful, but also good for the environment — with air-cleaning abilities, they can filter out particulate matter and volatile organic compounds from the air we breathe. Urban Blooms is responsible for the 18-by-8-foot installation at Hyde Park’s E+O Kitchen, and will be exhibiting a living wall at the Cincinnati Flower Show in April.
What makes this nonprofit really special? It’s still in the startup phase. Wolf and Turner have no paid staff and haven’t pulled a salary for themselves yet.
“We are professional volunteers,” Turner says. “When you remove the money factor, you see what you can do, and that’s when the passion really kicks in — and the ambition. It’s fantastic to see, and that’s part of the energy of the startup community.”
The two are committed to their cause and to the city of Cincinnati. “We are not trying to get rich with this,” Wolf says. “We really want to make our city into a more sustainable and community-oriented place that appreciates art, like these living walls. I believe we can turn Cincinnati into the most sustainable city in the country.”
There is an upcoming opportunity to volunteer with Urban Blooms. During the next few weeks, the team will be working to clean out a space in North Avondale to build a community butterfly garden. Any one wanting to help can contact Urban Blooms for details on time and place.
At the beginning of last year, Wolf got involved with the East End Veterans Memorial Garden, located behind Eli’s BBQ. The vets that tend to the garden are part of the drug and alcohol program at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. “The whole program is based around providing healthy living and learning environments and to teach them sober activities to occupy their time with,” Wolf says. Volunteers are welcome to visit the garden from 9 a.m.-noon Thursday or 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday starting around the first week of April. There is a 52-week curriculum that teaches different gardening techniques that are relevant to the seasons. “In the spring we teach how to get soil ready, starting seeds and transplanting,” Wolf says. “In the summer it’s more about taking care of plants and knowing when its time to pick. In the fall it’s about picking produce, cooking with it and getting the garden ready for the next year.” Urban Blooms is not looking for gardening gurus to get involved with this community project, just volunteers who want to spend some time getting their hands dirty to make a difference in the life of a veteran.
There is another garden near the Cincinnati Zoo where volunteers are welcome to come and help the team prepare the beds to be planted. This community garden has about 12 raised beds and is a traditional community garden where people in the neighborhood take responsibility for their own beds and work through trading with other people utilizing the gardening space. Anyone living in Avondale or Clifton who wants space in the garden can contact Urban Blooms.
Because this organization is so new, they could still use a little help with the business side of things. Anyone willing to contribute time to grant writing, website building or nonprofit administration would be more than appreciated.
Urban Blooms is a young nonprofit, so donations help greatly. Money is always appreciated but there are many other ways to help this growing organization. The team has asked for gardening supplies like soil, seeds and rocks. Donated wood and 55-gallon barrels can be used to make garden beds and planters. One unique donation they are looking for is old jeans — Turner has the interesting idea of turning jeans into cool planters.
For his fifth season in Cincinnati, six of the 10 productions are by women or artists of color. Robison has included a Pulitzer Prize winner, a work by America’s greatest African-American playwright, a couple of classics, two world premieres and some shows that touch on important contemporary issues.
He’s particularly pleased that the shows he’s programmed for the Robert S. Marx Stage “have some degree of name recognition. But the season is not watered down — we haven’t resorted to ‘cotton-candy’ programming. We’re leaning forward and doing some very challenging work, but it has a popular flair. From the beginning I said that I wanted to be sure that our programming was both artistically challenging and hugely popular. That seems like it should be an easy thing, but it’s actually one of the hardest. I think this season has come the closest to that goal.”
The Marx season opens with an adaptation of John Irving’s popular 1989 novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany (Sept. 3-Oct. 1). A work that explores friendship, destiny and faith, it’s a show that Robison staged with memorable success a decade ago at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., where he was artistic director before Cincinnati. “It’s a beautiful, imaginative, resonant story,” he says. “The search for meaning, personal faith and true things, above and beyond organized religion, is interesting to people these days.”
Next will be August Wilson’s Jitney (Oct. 15-Nov. 12), one of the 10 plays in Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” chronicling African-American life during the 20th century. The story of men operating an unlicensed car service in Pittsburgh has never been staged in Cincinnati. Playhouse Associate Artist Timothy Douglas, one of the foremost interpreters of Wilson’s work in America today, will direct it.
Following the 26th annual production of A Christmas Carol, the Playhouse will present Little Shop of Horrors (Jan. 21-Feb. 19), a campy off-Broadway show about a man-eating plant that became a Broadway hit (and a movie) in the 1980s. (The Playhouse produced it in 1987.) “I just love this show.” Robison says. It’s no longer touring, and he promises “a high-level treatment” by guest director Bill Fennelly, who helped make Jersey Boys a hit. “When we did Ring of Fire in 2015,” says Robison, “we discovered that something fun and peppy and innately populist fits in January.”
From populism to the classics is the path he’s taking for the season’s final productions on the mainstage — an adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romantic novel Jane Eyre (March 11-April 8) and Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (April 22-May 20). The latter is an amusing adaptation in the same vein as the hilarious production of The 39 Steps, using five actors to play numerous roles and hurtle through a familiar tale.
The Playhouse’s Shelterhouse stage is where more adventurous works are offered. The season kicks off with Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced (Sept. 24-Oct. 23), a dinner party on New York City’s Upper East Side hosted by a Muslim-American attorney with friends and colleagues that melts down around identity, religion and politics. “It’s the Playhouse’s responsibility to ensure that our audiences can enjoy these huge award-winning plays,” Robison explains. “ You don’t have to go to New York or Chicago to see them. It’s going to be fantastic in the Shelterhouse. We’ve intentionally chosen to put this pressure cooker in the Shelterhouse and turn up the heat.”
Every holiday season the Playhouse seeks an alternative to its lovely traditional production of A Christmas Carol. This year’s show should be especially attractive: The Second City’s Holidazed & Confused Revue (Nov. 5-Dec. 31). It promises to be a hilarious evening of its skits that send up Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and everything in between, performed by talent from the legendary Chicago comedy club.
In the New Year, Robison has lined up two more world premieres, again featuring up-and-coming female playwrights. Arlitia Jones’s Summerland (Feb. 4-March 5) is about a “spirit photographer,” inspired by a man who took haunting images of the dead in the era just after the Civil War. That will be followed by Jen Silverman’s All the Roads Home (March 25-April 23), the story of three generations of women and the legacies they inherit across the latter half of the 20th century.
The Shelterhouse season wraps up with a one-woman show, Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End (May 6-June 4), a portrait of the Dayton, Ohio, housewife whose newspaper columns gave voice to ordinary women everywhere. “This show is just an absolute stitch,” says Robison. “It had a very successful run at Arena Stage in Washington last spring, and we got it immediately because of the Ohio connection. It’s the perfect vehicle to send people into summer with a smile.”
As Robison said, it sounds easy to assemble an
artistically challenging and popular season, but it’s truly a tough
task. It would appear that he’s done it for 2016-2017. “I think this
season has come the closest to that goal,” he says.
The box office is the true gauge, but the season certainly looks promising.
There’s an exciting array of theater on local stages this weekend, a perfect time to check out a live performance before you settle in for the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
It seems that all a theater needs to do these days is mention Jane Austen and fans line up for tickets. I’m sure that’s what Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has in mind with its production of Emma, opening tonight. It’s the story of an amateur matchmaker who loves to meddle in the love lives of others. But when her efforts on behalf of her friend Harriet go awry, Emma Wodehouse has to undo the damage. Cincy Shakes’ productions of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility broke box-office records, and there’s no reason that show adaptation (also by Jon Jory, who led Actors Theatre of Louisville for 32 seasons). Tonight’s the opening, and the show will be onstage at 719 Race St. through March 26. Tickets: 513-381-2273.
Last June, the Audience Pick of the 2015 Cincinnati Fringe was dungeon by the Hit The Lights! Theatre Company from New York City. In fact, the company has roots here in Cincinnati; its co-founder says, “We’re overjoyed to be returning to Cincinnati, our home away from home, to invite audiences into a more fully-formed dungeon than they last encountered.” The show is about a young man who enters the unknown to rescue something he holds dear. The show is inspired by kabuki, video games, horror movies and Pixar shorts, creating a world where darkness speaks louder than light. Two encore performances this weekend at Essex Studios (2511 Essex Place) in Walnut Hills at the Cincinnati Actors Studio and Academy (CASA, Room 282B), tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets: $15 at the door.
It’s the final weekend for three shows on campus at Xavier University, presented in repertory: Miss Julie, a classic by August Strindberg; Betrayal, a heady drama by Harold Pinter; and Begotten, a world premiere by senior theater major Tatum Hunter. At the Gallagher Student Center Theater through Sunday. Tickets: 513-745-3939.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists (on the Shelterhouse Stage through March 6) has another week to run. It brings together a quartet of badass women, under house arrest during the French Revolution — including Queen Marie Antoinette and assassin Charlotte Corday. Awaiting their likely demise by the guillotine, they encourage, inspire and support one another during the horrific Reign of Terror. Sounds serious but it’s a very funny, irreverent fantasia performed by an excellent cast. I gave this one a resounding Critic’s Pick. Through March 6. Tickets: 513-421-3888.
The characters might express the feeling that “It Sucks to Be Me,” but I don’t think anyone in the audience will feel that way watching Cincinnati Landmark’s production of Avenue Q at the Incline Theater in Price Hill. The darkly funny and very adult parody of Sesame Street has been staged by local stage veteran Elizabeth Harris with a cast of singers and actors who know how to bring puppets to life — politically inappropriate, from start to finish. It’s an evening of gasps, giggles and guffaws. Through March 6. Tickets: 513-241-6550.
Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here.
Customers entering Building Value in Northside are greeted by a yard of
bathtubs, sinks and other home furnishings. It might seem like a graveyard for
building materials, but these old home fixtures are awaiting a new life.
This is confirmed by the set of child-sized lawn chairs by the store entrance.
Upon closer inspection it’s clear that the chairs are actually repurposed
shopping carts. Inside, customers bustle around the store through aisles of
cabinets, shelves and other furniture looking for a new home.
All of the goods available for purchase at Building Value are either donated by
homeowners who no longer use them or salvaged from demolished homes. Anything
bought here can be given a new life in another home rather than sitting in a
While two men get out a tape measure to see if their dream cabinets will fit
inside their kitchen, the store cat Bella Value perches atop the checkout
counter as the clerk asks a customer to sign a donation form.
“With or without the cat’s help?” he asks. Bella seems indifferent to the man’s
signature as he signs off on the goods he donated to the store.
Building Value’s main mission is to employ people with disabilities and other
workplace difficulties and give them the training needed to obtain positions in
the construction field that pay livable wages.
Those who complete Building Value’s training program develop basic
deconstruction skills. They may then be hired by companies like Messer
Construction, a partner of Building Value.
“A combination of our program and our store work hand in hand,” Daniels says. “The
deconstruction part tears down buildings and brings it back to the store; the
store sells it so that we can make money to fund our mission.”
Instead of completely knocking a house to the ground, Building Value works to
take it apart piece by piece so that almost all parts are salvageable and able
to be resold in the store. All proceeds benefit programs at Easter Seals, a
nonprofit dedicated to creating opportunities for those with disabilities or
disadvantages to realize their full potential. The tristate chapter of Easter
seals founded the store in 2004.
“We’re trying to carefully remove items so that it can come here and get a
second life as the same thing or maybe repurposed,” Daniels says. “Our biggest
component here is how much stuff we divert from the landfill.”
The cheapest way to demolish a building is to completely raze it and dump all
of the components into a landfill, Daniels says. Although Building Value does
not demolish homes this way, having the service done by them may be comparable
or cheaper because the items salvaged for resale are tax-deductible donations.
“The thing that separates us from another business is that all the material
that comes back to the store is an actual tax write-off to the organization
that offsets their bill,” Daniels says.
The customers who shop at Building Value are contractors, house flippers and
those looking to repurpose old items — a group Daniels proudly calls “the
Pinterest crowd.” Since the key to making money off these ventures is finding
cheap materials, Building Value is an essential shopping destination for these
Before Daniels became the store manager, he flipped old houses and was a
frequent customer himself. He combines his skills from managing a Walgreens
store with his knowledge of what homebuilders need to run Building Value.
The 2016-2017 season for Broadway in Cincinnati was announced over the weekend. We’ll be seeing several time-tested titles, as well as a number of brand-new works and a couple of certifiable hits. Here’s the rundown:
The Sound of Music (Sept. 27-Oct. 9): It’s a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved hit about Maria and the von Trapp Family. It’s a sure bet that audiences will love this one, the show that became the most successful movie musical in history.
The Phantom of the Opera (Nov. 15-27): I’ve lost track of how many times a tour of Phantom has come to Cincinnati, but I can tell you that the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall, which opened in 1995, was designed with the appropriate infrastructure to support the show’s crashing chandelier. This tour is a new production by Cameron Mackintosh that’s described as “bigger and better than ever before,” featuring many exciting special effects — including that legendary chandelier. It’s one of the largest productions currently touring. This one is what the Broadway Series calls a “Season Extra,” not part of the package of shows that subscribers can purchase — it’s an over-and-above choice that a lot of people will be making, I’m sure.
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (Jan. 3-8, 2017): The one-week run suggests low audience expectations, but this show earned rave reviews in 2014 and won the year’s Tony Award for the season’s best musical. It’s the story of a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to move to the top of the list by eliminating eight relatives in the way — all played by one actor. It’s a very funny farce.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Jan. 17-29, 2017): Based on the Disney animated film, this one will draw families by the droves, I’m sure. It’s the story of Ariel, weary of flipping her fins and longing to be on dry land. All the characters from the film are all onstage — Sebastian, her crabby sidekick; handsome Prince Eric; and most memorably, Ursula, the evil sea witch. I bet you know some of these songs.
Something Rotten! (February 21-March 5, 2017): Weary of competing with Rock star playwright Shakespeare, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s first musical, based on questionable advice from a soothsayer who suggests that the future of theater is about singing, dancing and acting — all at once! Great fun for those who pick up on the Elizabethan gags and musical theater parodies, as well as anyone else who simply loves over-the-top comedy. I saw this show on Broadway back in November, and pretty much laughed from start to finish.
Mamma Mia! (March 10-12, 2017): This is another “Season Extra,” presented outside the subscription package for just a three-day stop. It’s the ultimate feel-good show with ABBA’s greatest hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Take A Chance on Me” and “The Winner Takes It All,” and a story of love, laughter and friendship.
The Illusionists – Live from Broadway (March 21-26, 2017): OK, it’s not exactly a Broadway musical or play, but it is a spectacular showcase performed by seven of today’s most entertaining illusionists.
Matilda The Musical (April 4-16, 2017): Roald Dahl’s beloved novel became a hit in London when it debuted as a musical in 2011 where it’s still running; it’s been a Broadway attraction since 2013, when it picked up a bushel basketful of Tony nominations. Time magazine named it 2013’s No. 1 show, and the story of a spunky girl who, using her imagination and her sharp mind, takes a stand and changes her destiny, is a worldwide hit. It should be popular with Cincinnati families.
Beautiful – The Carole King Musical (May 2-14, 2017): Everyone I know who’s seen this show in NYC has loved it. King’s songs (many of them written with her husband Gerry Goffin and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann) became hits for the biggest acts in Rock & Roll. But when her personal life began to disintegrate she found her true voice and became one of the most successful solo acts in Pop music. Her tunes were a soundtrack for the late ’60s and early ’70s — “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “You’ve Got A Friend.” The show won two 2014 Tony Awards and its cast recording earned a 2015 Grammy; it’s still playing to sold-out houses on Broadway. Nostalgia is the key and it’s unlocking a lot of warm feelings.