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In the Wings
Gazette Theater Columnist Karen Edwards
email kse@columbus.rr.com

Visit Theatre Columns 2004

December 2005

Let’s say you have some hard-to-shop-for people on your Christmas list (who doesn’t?) or you’re simply out of ideas on what you can possibly get your significant other/mother/father/sister/bro-ther/best friend/son/daughter (you fill in the blank) this year.

Here’s a thought:
Turn to theater. Any of the items suggested below would make a unique holiday gift for your loved ones. And remember - for every dollar you spend, you’re supporting the arts, and that’s a gift as well.

Dinner and tickets to a show
The splurge: Buy a gift card to your favorite Short North restaurant – then reserve seats at one of the theatrical presentations playing in December (see “On Stage in December.”) It’s a classic, and classy, night out and every bit as good as one you’d spend in New York.

On the cheap: You’d like to be able to spring for dinner and a show, but you don’t have the dough. What do you do? Check out the free play readings (see last month’s column), and order a to-die-for chocolate martini.

A season subscription
The splurge: It’s not too late to buy a season subscription for the theater lovers in your life, or for those who’d like to attend theater but never seem to get around to making reservations. There are still plenty of interesting shows left on theater schedules, so take advantage of subscription rates, and give your lucky recipient a gift they can enjoy right through the spring.

On the cheap: If your recipient is retired or has a flexible lunch schedule, check out the “$11@11” tickets offered by the Contemporary American Theatre Company. (Actually, the price is $11.25 for an 11 a.m. show). It’s a great price for a show that would cost at least twice that price in the evening. Call the CATCO box office, (614) 469-0939 for more information, or visit www.catco.org

A donation
The splurge: If those on your gift list are arts and community-minded, why not make a contribution to the recipient’s favorite theater company – in their name? Just think: you don’t have to wrap it, and there are no returns.

On the cheap: No one said you had to donate thousands – or even hundreds. An unexpected $50 or $25 donation to a theater company is always appreciated.

Art
The splurge: That’s right, art – the visual kind. Both MadLab Theatre Company and 2Co’s Cabaret have on-premise art galleries with regular shows featuring everything from oil paintings to photographs to suit every taste. Galleries are open during theater hours, or by appointment. You can find MadLab at 105 N. Grant Avenue and 2Co’s at 790 N. High Street. Stop in, catch a show, and browse the galleries. Who knows? You may be able to cross one art lover off your list.

On the cheap: BlueForms Theatre Group sells posters promoting its original works, and they are perfect for dressing up a theater lover’s office or home wall. Subjects include the company’s acclaimed A/The Post Modern Love Story (in large and small versions) and its most recent performance, A Lonely Crowd, which premiered in Cincinnati in October. Visit http://blueforms.info and click on the “Let’s go shopping” section for more information.

A workshop or seminar
The splurge: Women at Play offer ActWrite workshops – and while they’re listed here under “splurge,” they’re really not costly at all. For $25 your gift recipient will have an opportunity to learn playwriting by actually working through acting and process drama exercises. It’s the perfect gift for the actor who has always wanted to write, or for the writer who has always wanted to act. No acting experience is required, though. There is an ActWrite workshop coming up on February 5, so your gift recipient will have something to look forward to. Visit www.womenatplaysite.com or call (614) 457-6580.

On the cheap: Nearly every theater group provides actor and dramaturg talkbacks following certain performances. Choose a show your gift recipient might like to attend, and then check the theater company’s Web site (or call the box office) to see when these brief seminars are scheduled. They’re free with the price of the ticket.

A little trinket with theatrical cachet
Splurge or on the cheap: You’ll find items of all types and all price ranges online at http://blueforms.info and www.centerstageplayers.com What kind of items? Everything from coffee mugs to mouse pads, diaries to license plate frames, messenger bags to totes. And did we mention clothing? Whether it’s a simple t-shirt you’re looking for or a hooded sweatshirt, you’ll find it at both of these companies’ online stores. CATCO also offers a t-shirt on its Web site, www.catco.org

So what are you waiting for? December 25 is just around the corner – and there are plenty of theater companies out there ready to help you find the perfect gift.

ONSTAGE IN DECEMBER 2005

Scrooge
Park Playhouse Teen Theatre and Children’s Drama Company
WHEN: Dec. 9 - 10; Dec. 16 - Dec. 18
WHERE: The Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The classic Dickens tale of the miserly man who hates Christmas makes an appearance on the Shedd stage for the first time in 15 years. The play was performed annually by the now defunct Player’s Theatre in the same auditorium for countless holiday seaasons.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 645-7469.

Bad Dates
CATCO:Contemporary American Theater Company
WHEN: Nov. 25 - Dec. 18
WHERE: Studio One, Vern Riffe Building, 77 S. High St.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A 40-something single mom from Texas finds herself in New York City and back in the dating game – where she gamely anticipates, then attempts to recover – from each bad date.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 469-0939 or visit www.catco.org
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Columbus Children’s Theatre
WHEN: Nov. 25 - Dec. 18
WHERE: 512 N. Park St. in the Short North
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Christmas would not be Christmas without this beloved tale of the Herdmans and the merry mayhem they create while performing in the best Christmas pageant ever.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 224-6672 or visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Christmas at 2 Co’s
2Co’s Cabaret
WHEN: Nov. 16 - Dec. 30
WHERE: 790 N. High St. in the Short North
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Christmas at 2Co’s unwraps tales of everything from childhood memories to holiday wishes fulfilled. Look out for The Christmas Queenies, a trio of cross-dressing lounge singers set to steam up the stage with their not-so-classic versions of standards mixed with comedy.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 470-2267 or visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2Co’s icon.

SPECIAL NOTE: This is one of the last shows you’ll be able to see at 2Co’s Cabaret. The popular Short North location will permanently close its doors Feb. 25, 2006 – following a successful six-year run. Read more about 2Co’s closing next month.

Too Much Christmas
MadLab Theatre
WHEN: Dec. 1 - 23
WHERE: MadLab Theatre, 105 N. Grant Ave.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two teams vie fo0r holiday dominance spinning party yarns and caroling merrily in an attempt to win the prize.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 470-2333 or visit www.madlab.net

Triology of Love
Inner City Performing Arts Poetic Circle
WHEN: Dec. 15 at 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Columbus Museum of Art
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Bittersweet love featuring local actors and writers from Columbus, including Joan Moos, Lisa Farmer, Edna Farmer, Betty Bleen, and Mark Stoll under the direction of Joanne R. Hollman.
TICKETS/INFO: $5 (614) 351-0718 or email toocutetoboop@yahoo.com

November 2005

If you’re a book-on-tape fan, or you really enjoy live theater but can’t always afford the ticket price, you should consider attending one of the public play readings given on a regular basis by local theater groups.

“It’s a way for us to hear the plays out loud, and get some audience reaction to them,” says Keely Kurtas, literary manager for Red Herring Theatre Ensemble, which gives play readings the first Monday of each month. “It also helps us decide what plays we might want to stage in the future.”

Red Herring Artistic Director Maureen Ryan adds that it’s an easy way for a number of people to familiarize themselves with the material – all at once. “In an ensemble-based organization where we are making season decisions as a collective, it becomes a challenge for everyone to get all the plays read,” says Ryan.

If you’re not familiar with the play reading format, it’s a bit like listening to a book on tape. There are no sets, no costumes, no special lighting – but there are talented actors and actresses creating characters and dramatic moments that transcend those conventional theatrical trappings and immerse you in what is really the most important element of any play – story.

Informal or staged?
Red Herring’s readings are informal. The actors sit in chairs and read the lines.

“We are doing basically cold readings,” says Ryan.

The readings given by Columbus Black Actors’ Theater, however, are staged readings. That means that CBAT founder and artistic director Stevi Meredith directs the actors and even provides some blocking – so that, in some scenes, actors will stand and move about as they read their lines. Meredith agrees that readings give her a good idea of the type of work she may want her company to produce in the future. And as a new player in town, it also allows her an opportunity to meet the actors she may want to work with. Meredith is working with the Foolish Bison Theatre Company for the November reading, but she is also actively recruiting actors for future readings by posting notices in college theater departments, at coffee shops, and by advertising in local newspapers.

Red Herring readings are performed by the company’s ensemble members. No one really auditions for a part, says Kurtas. Instead, actors are chosen by the ensemble member who is in charge of the play reading.

“The casting generally happens when we meet,” says Ryan. If the play is especially complex, though, the reading may be cast in advance, and even lightly rehearsed, she says.

Incidentally, all ensemble members who read a part do so with the understanding that, if the play is eventually staged, they may not necessarily be cast in the role. And none of the actors who perform play readings for any of the companies are paid.

Audience participation
Although Red Herring has enough ensemble members to cover plays with even large casts, Kurtas says audience members will occasionally be asked to read parts.

“It’s sometimes more helpful for us to hear the lines rather than read them,” she says.

Kurtas explains that reading aloud allows actors, directors, artistic directors and even the audience to discover something in a play that may be missed in a silent reading.

Ryan agrees. “Often, you can hear rhythm, tempos and intricacies of language even in a cold reading that you can miss sitting on the sofa reading the play by yourself,” she says.

Of course, audiences provide an even greater service to theater companies by simply expressing their opinion about the play.
Both Red Herring and Columbus Black Actors’ Theater host discussions after each play reading – not only about the play’s story line and theme, but also technical discussions (how practical would it be to stage this play?) and whether it’s a play the audience enjoyed listening to.

“For us, that’s the point of a public reading,” says Ryan. “We are genuinely interested in any response to the play, especially from individuals who aren’t necessarily theater goers. If they are engaged enough to sit through an entire cold reading, chances are good there is something pretty engaging about the play.”

As far as what kind of feedback is needed, the more specific the better, says Ryan.

“Someone stating they liked the play is helpful, but if they can say who or what they liked about it, then we’re getting somewhere,” says Ryan.

Kurtas says they’ll ask questions of the audience to elicit certain feedback. “We’ll ask, ‘Is this a play you would like to see staged in Columbus? Would you go see it if it were staged – and why or why not,” says Kurtas.

Meredith says she’s also looking for as much feedback as possible about the play. Because the plays she chooses for readings focus on the African-American experience, she’ll ask audience members if the play seems relevant, if it’s something they would attend, and she might even ask what would happen if a character was white instead of African-American, or a man instead of a woman.

It’s like attending an actor and dramaturg talk back in the same evening – and the more provocative the play, the better the discussion.

Negative reactions
What if the audience hates the play?

“Chances are, if the audience feels really negatively about a play, someone in the ensemble will too,” says Kurtas. That doesn’t mean the play won’t be considered for future production – but it might have a chilling affect on the final decision.

“That’s really the point of the reading, to see how folks respond,” says Ryan. “If they’re turned off by the play, then we probably need to pay attention to that. Again, it becomes important to know what they are objecting to.”

Meredith says she’s unlikely to reject a play out of hand, based on audience reactions at a play reading – however, it might make her take another look at the play, and try a different approach to the material.

In a sense, then, the audience at a play reading acts like a focus group – allowing artistic directors to determine whether or not a play will do well with the Columbus theater crowd. It’s valuable information, allowing a company to shape its season according to local tastes.

But there are benefits for the audience as well.

“It allows you to hear what’s out there,” says Kurtas – and it is an excellent opportunity for you to hear new plays, controversial plays, plays that are excellent but for one reason or another may never appear on a local stage.

Meredith adds that play readings are great environments. After all, there is no need to dress up, and most play readings are done in convivial, relaxed coffee shop environments or places where stiffer drinks can be ordered. “Try Café Diversity’s chocolate martinis,” suggests Kurtas and Ryan.

Inexpensive entertainment

Certainly, play readings offer an inexpensive theater-going experience. Neither Red Herring, nor BlueForms Theatre Group, which also performs play readings, charges for the experience – and Columbus Black Actors’ Theater charges only a small fee.

“I’ve learned that people don’t value something unless they pay for it,” says Meredith.

But the fee is low, and the reading is staged, so don’t let the small charge dissuade you from going.

Another audience benefit is the ability to help shape a theater company’s upcoming season, or future repertory. That means you get to help select the plays that are important or meaningful to you.

“Even if we don’t put it on, you might see that some other company is doing the play and want to go see it,” says Kurtas.

Of course, if the company that read the play decides to stage it, you can’t beat the word of mouth that comes from the play reading audience. If it’s one they enjoyed, they’ll be there to see it – and they’ll tell their friends to go see it too.

“I’d like to encourage the practice of gathering and reading plays,” says Ryan. “It’s an enjoyable way to spend an evening.”

And it has the added bonus of making theater and theater artists visible in various gathering spots around town. “We need to get ourselves out there and call attention to our work,” Ryan adds.

When it comes down to it, though, play readings are the ultimate storytelling experience – like story hours for adults.

“Stories are out there everywhere, every day” says CBAT’s Meredith. “Friday nights, you hear stories in the beauty shops. You hear them in the barber shops come Saturday morning and from the pulpit on Sundays.

“Stories are profound. They are a way for us to share with each other, to find the things in ourselves that touch us and make us human.”

In the rush of daily living, we sometimes forget to listen to the stories. We get away from them in our push to move on to the next appointment, the next meeting, the next scheduled activity. Play readings bring us back to the stories. And to our humanity.

“The stories are out there,” says Meredith. “They’re waiting for us.”

And they’re as close as the next play reading.

Public Play Readings: Where and When to Go

Blue Forms Theatre Group
WHEN: 1st Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. (This is BlueForms third year of giving monthly, free play readings.)
WHERE: Kafe Kerouac, 2250 N. High St.
PLAY READING SCHEDULE:
Dec. 6 – TBA; Jan. 3 – TBA; Feb. 7 – TBA
Mar. 7 – Hazard County, by Allison Moore
Apr. 4 – Matt and Ben, by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers
May 2 – Heroes and Saints, by Cherrie Moraga
CONTACT: 614-975-3764 or blue@blueforms.info or visit www.blueforms.info

Columbus Black Actors’ Theater
WHEN: Nov. 5, Feb. 4, May (TBA) All play readings begin at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Kafé Kerouac, 2250 N. High St. (North campus area)
PLAY READING SCHEDULE:
Nov. 5 - Wedding Band, by Alice Childress (“This has a good spot in my heart,”
says Meredith, who saw the play performed by Ruby Dee.)
Feb. 4 - Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, by August Wilson
May - TBA (“I hope it will be a new play by a local playwright,” says Meredith.)
CONTACT: 614-860-0119 or cbatheater@yahoo.com

Red Herring Theatre Ensemble
WHEN: 1st Monday each month at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Café Diversity (at the corner of Whittier and High Streets)
PLAY READING SCHEDULE: Announced a week or two before the reading
CONTACT: Call 614-460-1200

ONSTAGE IN NOVEMBER 2005

Bad Dates
CATCO:Contemporary American Theater Company
WHEN: Nov. 25 - Dec. 18
WHERE: Studio One, Vern Riffe Building, 77 S. High St.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: A 40-something single mom from Texas finds herself in New York City and back in the dating game – where she gamely anticipates, then attempts to recover – from each bad date.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: Playwright Theresa Rebeck hails from Cincinnati and has written for such television series as Third Watch and NYPD Blue. CATCO Co-Artistic Director Jon Putnam will direct Joan Krause in this one-woman show.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 469-0939 or visit www.catco.org

Much Ado About Nothing
Park Playhouse Teen Theatre
WHEN: Nov. 4 - 6 and Nov. 11 - 13
WHERE: Shedd Theatre, Columbus Performing Arts Ctr., 589 Franklin Ave.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Shakespeare serves up the classic battle between the sexes, with two different couples. Twice the misunderstandings, twice the fun.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: Director John Heisel twists the tale into a comedy of manners, using archetypes created by “Miss Manners” herself - Regency author Jane Austen.
For tickets/information: Call (614) 645-7469.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Columbus Children’s Theatre
WHEN: Nov. 25 - Dec. 18
WHERE: 512 N. Park St. in the Short North
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Christmas would not be Christmas without this beloved tale of the Herdmans and the merry mayhem they create while performing in the best Christmas pageant ever.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: If you think CCT has done this play before, you’re right! And there’s a reason for it – it’s the most requested play at CCT.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 224-6672 or visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Twisted Tales
2Co’s Cabaret
WHEN: Sept. 14 - Nov. 12
WHERE: 790 N. High St. in the Short North
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Sketches, monologues and music created to give you a few new shivers and goosebumps.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 470-2267 or visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2Co’s icon.

Christmas at 2 Co’s
2Co’s Cabaret
WHEN: Nov. 16 - Dec. 30
WHERE: 790 N. High St. in the Short North
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Christmas at 2Co’s unwraps tales of everything from childhood memories to holiday wishes fulfilled. Look out for The Christmas Queenies, a trio of cross-dressing lounge singers set to steam up the stage with their not-so-classic versions of standards mixed with comedy.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: The Christmas Queenies are a spin off of the "Santa Babies" – now in their 14th year at Shadowbox. The Queenies aren’t the first "holiday drag act" done by Shadowbox. In the late ‘90s, three men, dressed in Santa Baby costumes, served as a "warm up" act to the Santa Babies. Both Chris Lynch and Tom Cardinal were a part of that sketch – and now they, along with Joe Lorenzo, are 2Co’s Christmas Queenies!
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 470-2267 or visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2Co’s icon.

Too Much Christmas
MadLab Theatre
WHEN: Dec. 1 - 23
WHERE: MadLab Theatre, 105 N. Grant Ave.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Two teams vie fo0r holiday dominance spinning party yarns and caroling merrily in an attempt to win the prize.
THE INSIDE SCOOP: Too Much Christmas will be modeled after last year’s highly successful, Too Much Theatre, and will, again, be directed by Greg McGill.
TICKETS/INFO: (614) 470-2333 or visit www.madlab.net

October 2005

Stevi Meredith

“Columbus has a black mayor, telling us we live in a 21st-century city, but we don’t have a black theater company.”

Stevi Meredith was appalled. She may be Columbus born and bred, but she’s lived in the Los Angeles area most of her life, and when she moved back to Columbus about a year ago to take care of aging family, she couldn’t believe a big city – a “21st-century” city – like Columbus had no professional black theater company of its own.

“Every big city in the nation has a black theater company,” says Meredith, “so how can the mayor say we’re living in a 21st-century city?”

Meredith has heard the stories, of course – of Columbus black theater companies that came and went due to mismanagement of funds and/or lack of vision and other problems.

To be fair, Columbus does offer a black theater experience through the King Arts Complex. Tonea Stewart, for example, was recently in town on October 1 for a one-woman performance, Remembering Papa Dallas and other Soul Stirring Experiences, billed as a musical journey of African-American history, including the soulful poetry of Langston Hughes. And the center is now sponsoring a playwriting contest, with entries to be judged by a panel of prominent playwrights, directors and leaders in the arts community. One of the entries submitted will be scheduled for a performance during the King Art Complex’s 2005-2006 seasons.

Still, Meredith says, “I’m coming in with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I’m not weary of the problems [with black theater] everyone else has dealt with. If anything, I think my passion for creating black theater in Columbus is stronger than ever.”

Maybe that’s because Meredith is used to a little adversity.

She left Columbus for Los Angeles shortly after graduating from high school. The theater bug had bit her early. “I was in every play I could be in during junior high and high school and at church,” she says. And before that, she was writing plays for her cousins to perform at family get-togethers. “I’m not sure they’ve forgiven me for that yet,” Meredith says with a laugh. “They never wanted to do it, but I was the oldest, so they just did what I asked them to.”

After high school, however, Meredith packed her bags and left for Orange County, just a 45-minute drive from Los Angeles.

Star-crossed actress
She wanted to be a performer, so she went to auditions – including one for Neil Simon’s Star-Spangled Girl.

“The director pulled me aside after the auditions. I thought he was going to give me the role,” says Meredith. Instead, the director told her that, although she was the best person he auditioned for the part, he couldn’t give it to her. He told her his Orange County audience would never accept her in the part, along with two young white male co-stars.

Shortly after that, she bowed out of performing (“unless they really need me”), and she started to teach and direct – first at a summer program, then later at the Inner City Cultural Center, which was one of the good things that came out of the Los Angeles riots.

C. Bernard Jackson, who founded the center, had a vision, says Meredith. He believed in diversity in casting – a white father, an African-American mother, with Asian children.

He believed that if you gave diversity to the audience, they’d be willing to suspend their everyday reality, and accept this cast as a “family unit,” explains Meredith.
And people did.

“The Center allowed people to grow,” says Meredith. And that applied as much to its audiences as to the people who directed and performed in its productions.
Meredith left the Center to pursue a private teaching opportunity, but she still cherishes the time she spent at the Center, and she brings its lessons with her to Columbus.

Naming the company
She’ll admit that she struggled a bit with a name for her new company. She resisted suggestions to call it by an African-American name.

“I want the city of Columbus to take ownership in this theater, so I wanted Columbus in the name,” she says.

Columbus Black Actors’ Theater not only reflects the community but what the group does.

Still, Meredith knows she has a long way to go in getting her new company up and running.

“This is my field of dreams,” she says. “I believe if you build it, they will come.”

Columbus needs a black theater company she says – and not just because every other major city has one. Except for Red Herring’s production of Paul Robeson, scheduled for February 2006 (see below), “there is a season of absence” this year in terms of black playwrights being produced in Columbus. She understands other companies’ hesitation to schedule black productions, “theater is driven by dollars,” she observes, but the African-American community needs a place to go to hear their stories told, to have their voices expressed.

It’s one of the reasons she’d also like to teach. “I think I’m smart. That’s one thing I know about myself, and I’d like to give some of that back to others. I’d like to teach them what I know. I want to train the actors of the future.” She envisions classes filled with all ages, races and gender. “It’s all up in my head,” she says – and she’s eager to bring it into reality.

Meredith is building a good relationship with the Greater Columbus Arts Council. She has found venue space with Kafe Kerouac and at another coffee shop called Skambo on Gay Street. She has produced and directed her first production – Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf.

“The ladies who came out and auditioned for those parts will always be dear to my heart,” says Meredith. “They were willing to step out and take a chance.”
And people – lots of people – came to see the show. Most stayed and participated in the after-show discussion as well.

“People will come to see black theater,” Meredith asserts.

But she knows she needs to build up her reputation – achieve a little name recognition in the community And she knows she needs to find good actors.

A polished theater
That’s why she’ll produce a series of readings this year. It will give her an opportunity to work with local actors, and “to assess where they are.”
“I do things differently,” Meredith asserts. “I bring a New York/Los Angeles standard to what I direct.”

In other words, Columbus Black Actors’ Theater won’t be at or anywhere near the community theater level. Even the readings will be as polished as Meredith can make them.

There will be more about the readings next month, but you might want to get out your calendars now and circle these dates:

November 5, 2005: Wedding Band, by Alice Childress
February 11, 2006: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, by August Wilson
April 22, 2006: TBA (Likely to be an original work)

Discussions will follow each reading. She feels that’s important. Meredith will use those to gauge what it is audiences want to see and hear in the future from her company. But as she puts it, it’s also a safe place to begin a dialogue on what are often sensitive or controversial subjects, as depicted by the plays.

“I think if there is one thing we learned from the aftermath of the Katrina disaster, it’s that we have stories to tell – but they aren’t being told by us,” Meredith says.
Maybe that will begin to change as Columbus nurtures and grows its first professional black theater company in many years.

“Columbus Black Actors’ Theater is my gift to Columbus,” Meredith says.

Columbus is a grateful recipient, indeed. And who knows? It may even bring us in line with the rest of the nation’s big cities – and into the 21st century at last.

MORE THEATER NEWS

BlueForms returns to Cincy… BlueForms Theatre Group is back this season with an additional company member, Ian Short (who appeared in the Actors’ Theatre/BlueForms collaboration Much Ado About Love and A/ThePostModernLoveStory) – and with a new collaborative venture, this time with Cincinnati Experimental Arts. The new production, They Will Be Heroes, takes on generational warfare, showing through Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y all the different ways we can find to divide ourselves. It will be performed Oct. 19 through Oct. 22 at the Mockbee in Cincinnati. For information and tickets, visit www.cincyfringe.com or call (513) 319-9385. It should be worth the road trip.

Red Herring plans season… Red Herring Theatre Ensemble will open its season with Paul Robeson, which will be performed in February at the Brownstone on Main’s downstairs cabaret space. The production will serve as part of CAPA’s (The Columbus Association of the Performing Arts) Spectrum Series. Jonathan Tazewell will be Paul Robeson, and Red Herring Artistic Director Maureen Ryan will direct. The play will run Feb. 9 through Feb. 25, with performances on Thursday, Friday, and two on Saturday. Make plans to attend now, and watch this space closer to Feb. for ticket information. The troupe’s next production, to be announced, will take place in May. Meanwhile, Red Herring’s board of trustees will spend the first six months of the 2005-06 season on long-range planning for the company.

Bread and Circus Theatre has moved… Bread and Circus Theatre, which performed out of the Short Stop Youth Center in the Short North, has moved to the Tripleforce Artistic Center in Hilliard. For more information about their season, visit www.bctco.org

ONSTAGE IN OCTOBER 2005

Woman in a Yellow Dress
Who: Women at Play
When: Oct. 20-Nov. 6
Where: 256 S. Columbia in Bexley; The Columbus Museum of Art, The Riffe Gallery, The Plum House in Chillicothe
What it’s about: A mysterious woman in a yellow dress, who looks similar to one of Renoir’s portraits, is stealing family photographs on which a poetry group has based its next reading. Is the woman real? And, if so, what are her motives?
The inside scoop: Artistic Director Katherine Burkman says the play is another of the group’s “process, site-specific dramas” written by the company. The Renoir element was added after Burkman received a letter from the Columbus Museum of Art, inviting the city’s artistic groups to collaborate with them around their Renoir exhibit. Expect lots of twists, turns – and fun along the way. Talkbacks will follow each performance.
For tickets/information: Visit www.womenatplaysite.com or call (614) 457-6580.

• The Rocky Horror Show
Who: Center Stage Players
When: Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 28-30
Where: The Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street in the Short North
What it’s about: If you don’t know the story, yet, of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and the young couple, Brad and Janet, who stumble upon his creepy castle after an auto mishap, then you must have just beamed down from some other planet. The film/play is a cult classic.
The inside scoop: “This is our favorite show of the year,” says Jim Bouyack, Rocky Horror director. Producer Alan Saunders says every year, it’s a game to try to outdo last year’s performances, and Artistic Director Ed Eblin says the show has become such a Short North tradition, people stop him on the street to ask if the show is in rehearsals yet.
For tickets/information: Visit www.centerstageplayers.com or call (614) 306-0447.

• The Grand Guignol
Who: MadLab Theatre
When: Oct. 13-Nov. 5
Where: MadLab Theatre, 105 N. Grant Ave.
What it’s about: This year’s edition is a full-length play, written by Andy Batt, and follows a man as he slowly descends into madness over his partner’s past indiscretions.
The inside scoop: The Grand Guignol returns to MadLab’s stage after taking a year off for last year’s Cliffhangers. Be warned: The Grand Guignol is grimly realistic, dramatizes macabre subject matter, and features over-the-top violence. In other words, it’s the perfect production for the Halloween season.
For tickets/information: Visit www.madlab.net or call (614) 470-2333.

• You’re My Boy
Who: The Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO)
When: Sept. 30-Oct. 23.
Where: Studio One, the Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street.
What it’s about: It’s 1952, and with the Republicans poised to take the White House with their sure-fire candidate Dwight Eisenhower, the question of the hour is, who will serve as his running mate? If you’re too young to know, or just can’t remember, here’s your opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes glimpse at two presidents in the making.
The inside scoop: One of the theater’s few political plays, this one was written by local playwright Herb Brown, a former justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.
For tickets/information: Visit www.catco.org or call (614) 469-0939.

• Twisted Tales
Who: 2Co’s Cabaret
When: Sept. 14-Nov. 12
Where: 790 N. High Street in the Short North
What it’s about: Sketches, monologues and music created to give you a few new shivers and goosebumps.
For tickets/information: Visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2Co’s icon, or call (614) 470-2267.

• The Forgiving Harvest
Who: Columbus Children’s Theatre
When: Oct. 27-Nov. 6 (Miss Nelson is Missing continues through Oct.9)
Where: 512 N. Park Street in the Short North
What it’s about: A young girl believes the prize steer she is raising is inhabited by the spirit of her late mother. When the steer is scheduled to be sold, the heroine does everything she can to save the steer, her home and her family.
The inside scoop: The Forgiving Harvest is written by award-winning children’s playwright Y York. Y’s adaptations are presented all over the world, and now Columbus families will have an opportunity to experience her magic first-hand.
For tickets/information: Visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org or call (614) 224-6672.

• Monster Soup and Seven Wives for Dracula
Who: Short Stop Theater Group
When: Oct. 26 (7pm), 28-29 (8pm)
Where: Short Stop Youth Center Theater, 1066 N. High Street
What it’s about: The Ghoul Sisters are about to be evicted from the swamp by Nasty Lawyer Fleasom! See how the family pulls together to outwit the Villain in Monster Soup. Then find out what happens when Mr. and Mrs. Dracula move in next door to the Sanatorium for the Disturbed. There’s every kind of strange being imaginable, including a howling Wolf-Man in Seven Wives for Dracula.
The inside scoop: Both one-act plays are written by Tim Kelly and directed by Emily Davis.
For tickets/information: Call (614) 299-5541. Tickets: Adults $7, Students/Seniors $5.

September 2005

CATCO premieres history-politico play

Chuck Gilespie as Eisenhower and Jon Putnam as Nixon
Photo Dave Alkire

When Mark Felt, aka “Deep Throat,” was uncovered this summer, the country couldn’t help time-traveling back to the turbulent 1970s, when Richard Nixon was president and Watergate an everyday word.

You’re My Boy, the Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO)’s newest production, offers Columbus theater audiences another opportunity to time travel. Only this trip goes back further in time – to 1952, when the Republican Party, poised to retake the White House, is about to determine its presidential ticket.

“That’s when conventions were really interesting,” says playwright Herb Brown. “Presidents were actually chosen at those conventions – they weren’t just infomercials.”

If Brown’s name sounds familiar, there’s reason for it. A former Ohio Supreme Court Justice, Brown is the author of a couple of legal thrillers, as well as the play Power of God, a short play performed at CATCO’s 2002 Shorts Festival.

You’re My Boy tells of the relationship between General Dwight Eisenhower and his surprise running mate, a young, successful politician by the name of Richard Nixon.

CATCO Artistic Director Geoffrey Nelson, who is directing the play, says he was attracted to the script when he first read it.

“It’s rare to have a play that’s about both history and politics,” he says. Nelson may have had a natural affinity for the script – he was a history major in college, but he says he also liked the idea it was penned by a local playwright, a voice from the community.

Accurate depiction
For the most part, You’re My Boy is an accurate depiction of the events that occurred when Ike and Nixon shared the Republican ticket. “It doesn’t take massive liberty with the facts,” says Nelson. Bits of dialogue actually come from Brown’s research of the events.

Brown admits to being a history buff and “political junkie” with a lifelong fascination of Richard Nixon. “I was interested in the psychology of the man,” says Brown. He knew he wanted to write something about Nixon, and found himself drawn to the play format.

“I’m not really qualified to write the kind of nonfiction book that historians write, and I wasn’t interested in writing an historical novel about Nixon, because I’m not particularly drawn to those kinds of books myself,” he says.

Brown began writing the play about five years ago, and, upon the advice of a friend, took his script to OSU theater instructor Mary Tarantino for possible consideration by OSU’s theater department. OSU decided to pass, but Tarantino suggested he show the script to Nelson.

Since then, the play has been revised, work shopped, read, and revised again. Characters have been strengthened, and the plot simplified. “We pulled conflict out of what was already there,” says Nelson. And somewhere during the process, the play moved from a straightforward drama to something of a black comedy.

Considering the nature of the play, it’s not surprising. You’re My Boy offers a backstage look at the politics of the times – like the show West Wing before its creator Aaron Sorkin left, says Nelson. There is backstabbing, lying, and a glimpse of the famous Nixon paranoia that would overtake him shortly after Watergate.

“It’s true to the characters and the relationships of the time,” says Brown.

Personal dichotomies
Nixon, for example, is presented as the master politician he was. When he came onto the scene as Eisenhower’s running mate, he had won every political campaign he’d entered, and was ambitious, driven by a desire to “be somebody.” Eisenhower, on the other hand, had to be persuaded to enter the political arena. He was already a hero, he didn’t need political office. But he agreed to enter the race because he saw public service as a duty.

The play explores this dichotomy of two different personalities, and two very different approaches to politics. Says Nelson: “The play is as much psychological as it is history or politics.”

Both men say they have developed a greater respect for Richard Nixon as a result of working on You’re My Boy, primarily because the script presents him as a well-rounded, three-dimensional character.

“There is no question he was psychologically disturbed,” says Brown. “But he was a deep and complex individual. That’s what I hope I’ve been able to show.”

The play’s minor characters prove just as fascinating – Thomas Dewey, Sherman Adams, Murray Chotnier (Nixon’s Karl Rove), and Pat Nixon.

Casting roles
Nelson cast one-time television weatherman Chuck Gillespie as Eisenhower and Jonathan Putnam as Nixon. He says he was less concerned about the actors’physical similarity to their political counterparts than he was with their ability to suggest the character’s personality and style.

“Chuck was in the military for 40 years, and he brings a military bearing to his character,” says Nelson. Putnam is working on Nixon’s voice inflections – but his challenge is to portray the man, not impersonate him, says Nelson.

The director says he’s enjoyed the process of working with Brown on bringing the script to the stage. “It’s always more challenging to mount a new work than to work with an existing script, but it’s also more creative,” says Nelson.

You’re My Boy is a play meant for all Americans, both men say. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at history, a peek into politics as it existed at the time, although similarities can be drawn to today’s events.
“The values question the play poses is timeless,” says Brown. “Should a president be guided by what people want or by what is best for the people? The ambition versus duty conflict is there, even though every action may be claimed to be motivated by the good of the country.”

Current events corollary
For example, Brown cites an incident when the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that Eisenhower lay an atomic bomb on a Chinese airfield to discourage the Chinese from taking over the Formosa Strait. Eisenhower told them, “We’d have the whole world and all our allies against us if we did that, and when you go it alone in one place, you better be prepared to go it alone everywhere from then on.” Eisenhower rejected their request.

Brown and Nelson hope that audiences find You’re My Boy entertaining – that history can be fun.

But they also hope the play will make audiences think about the role of leadership, and the people who take on that role.

“What is true leadership?” asks Brown. “It’s thinking about the people you serve, and about our role in the world.”

You’re My Boy
will be performed September 30 through October 23, 2005, at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. For more information on the You’re My Boy, visit http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/childs1/CATCOPlayNotesBrown.htm – a Web site designed especially to give you background on both the play and the events it covers. For reservations, contact (614) 469-0939.

Also Onstage in September…

Anything Goes… Everybody loves a love story, and who doesn’t love Cole Porter? Center Stage Players will present Porter’s lively shipboard romance Anything Goes from September 9 through September 11 at the Axis nightclub, 775 N. High Street. Set aboard a luxury liner headed for London, the play features the story of a stowaway who pursues a lovely debutante – with the help of Public Enemy Number 13. Hum along to 17 Cole Porter classics like “It’s De-Lovely,” “Friend-ship,” and “You’re the Top.” Shows start at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and at 7 p.m. on Sunday night. For information or reservations, visit www.centerstageplayers.com or call (614) 306-0447.

Friends and Lovers… continues at 2Co’s Cabaret, 790 N. High Street, until September 10. The critically acclaimed show focuses on relationships of all kinds. Included are sketches, monologues, short plays, even works from poets Billy Collins and beat poet Charles Bukowski – and, of course, plenty of music provided by house band Downtown DFN. Next up at 2Co’s is the troupe’s autumn show, Twisted Tales 2005, full of one acts, monologues and music dedicated to all those things that make you shiver in the night. Twisted Tales 2005 opens Wednesday, September 14 and runs every Thursday through Saturday until November 12. For more information call the 2Co’s hotline at 614.470.2Cos (2267).

Create Your Fate Theatre… Remember those interactive children’s books that allowed the reader to choose the fate of the hero? MadLab Theatre is doing the adult version of those books every night at its theater, 105 N. Grant Ave., at the corner of Grant and Long. Create Your Fate Theatre, written by Andy Batt and Greg McGill and directed by Batt, began August 25 and continues through September 17, every Thursday through Saturday night at 8 p.m. As the play’s audience, you’ll be able to put the play’s “super-heroes” through their paces, determining the plot, action – even “the fate of the world” (these ARE super-heroes, don’t forget.) MadLab’s even providing door prizes. Hold the winning ticket, and you may walk home with a comic book collection or a classic collection of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Then, on September 22 and continuing through October 1, MadLab and improv troupe Full Frontal Nudity will present Slow Children at Improv, the first-ever all-improv, multi-week show. Prepare for surprises, and lots of laughs, of course. For information or tickets, contact MadLab at (614) 470-2333, or visit www.madlab.net

Miss Nelson is Missing… Parents will know exactly who Miss Nelson is, but for non-parents, and maybe parents of non-readers, Miss Nelson is a teacher, and the subject of several books by authors Harry Allard and James Marshall. From September 22 through October 9, Miss Nelson will put in an appearance (or a rather mysterious non-appearance) at Columbus Children’s Theatre, 512 N. Park Street, in the Short North. Miss Nelson’s badly behaved students are alarmed one morning, when their gentle teacher is missing, and is replaced by the ill-tempered Miss Viola Swamp. When homework begins to pile up, and their story time is taken away, the children decide it’s time to find out just what happened to Miss Nelson. For information and/or reservations, contact CCT at (614) 224-6672 or visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Varekai… Internationally renowned Cirque du Soleil continues performances of its newest Columbus production Varekai through September 11 (with a possible one-week extension to September 18) at its tents located in the Arena District. Cirque du Soleil is not your average circus. It’s a kaleidoscope of imaginative storytelling combined with acrobatic and artistic disciplines, elaborate costumes, and international music. In other words, a one-of-a-kind experience. For more information, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com and for tickets, contact 1-800-678-5440.

News and Notes

MadLab chooses new Artistic Director… MadLab Theatre’s longtime Artistic Director Greg McGill has decided to turn over the reins of artistic programming to Chris Lane, actor, director and founder of the improv troupe Full Frontal Nudity. McGill will stay with MadLab, but decided the company needed a different kind of leader to push MadLab’s theatrical pursuits further.

Directing workshopWomen at Play’s artistic director Katherine Burkman will teach an intensive, eight-week workshop on stage directing at Richard Mason’s Acting in Columbus studio, 6172 Busch Boulevard in north Columbus. The workshop begins September 10, and will cover script analysis, using stage space, casting, working with actors and more. For information, contact (614) 543-9497, or visit www.actingincolumbus.com

BlueForms’ new collaboration… Earlier this summer, BlueForms Theatre Group collaborated with Actors’ Theatre on Actors’ compilation-production Much Ado About Love. Now, BlueForms is set to begin a new collaboration – this time with Cincinnati Experimental Arts, the company that produced the highly successful Cincinnati Fringe Festival last year and this. Details are still being worked out, but expect the new piece to debut October 20. Continue to watch “In the Wings” for more information.

Park Street Players auditions… Teens had better hurry if they want to be considered for the revamped Park Street Players, a Columbus Children’s Theatre training program and performance troupe for youths, aged 13 to 18. The program is a 24-week course, split into two sessions and based on the curriculum of a college freshman theater course. Those wishing to participate should go to CCT’s Park Street Theatre, 512 N. Park Street on September 4 at 7 p.m. for open auditions. Bring a resume, photo, and prepare a short monologue for delivery. For more information, contact (614) 24-6673 or visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Short Stop Youth Center Theatre Auditions... Two one-act plays – Monster Soup and Seven Wives for Dracula – need young actors 11 to 18 years old. The auditions for this late October production will be held September 7, 12, and 14 from 5:00 - 6:00 pm in the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High Street. Call 614-299-5541 for more info.

August 2005

Maybe it’s not Broadway, but Columbus’ fall theater season can be just as exciting as New York’s, and you don’t have to book a room or juggle airline schedules to enjoy it. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the productions that will be available to you this coming season.

The Contemporary American Theatre Company

CATCO opens with a world premiere by Herb Brown. You’re My Boy centers around the early political years of Richard M. Nixon. Brown is a former Ohio Supreme Court Justice, and author, and his play Power of God was included in CATCO’s 2002 Shorts Festival. You’re My Boy will be performed from September 30 through October 23.

Bad Dates comes next. Theresa Rebeck’s one-act, one-woman play, presents a woman who’s ready to re-join the dating pool after years away from it, due to a marriage, child, divorce and spotty success with a career. Can Haley overcome her prejudices, preconceptions, fears and hopes and find Mr. Right? Bad Dates will play November 25 through December 18 (just in time for all those holiday parties!).

If you think Columbus winters provide plenty of chills, wait until The Weir arrives on CATCO’s stage in February. In Conor McPherson’s play, set in a remote Irish pub, characters spin ghost stories to each other, each more eerie than the next – providing plenty of chills along the way. McPherson fans who are already familiar with the playwright’s one-man play, Saint Nicholas, will know what to expect. Those who don’t should come and enjoy a master storyteller at work. Prepare to be spellbound. The Weir will be performed February 3 through February 26, 2006.

Speaking of storytellers, a work by one of America’s premier storytellers, Tennessee Williams, will be performed by CATCO March 31 through April 23, 2006. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is set in the Deep South but even a birthday celebration can’t stop family members from feuding over land when they believe the family’s patriarch is dying of cancer. It’s classic Williams and classic theater.

Finally, June 2 through June 25, 2006, look for more fun with Thurston, Arles and other residents of Tuna, Texas, as CATCO presents Greater Tuna by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard from June 2 through June 25. If you haven’t yet met the residents of Tuna, here’s your opportunity to see what makes Tuna tick.

All CATCO shows are presented in Studio One in the Vern Riffe building, 77 S. High Street. For subscription information, contact CATCO’s box office, (614) 469-0939, or visit CATCO online at www.catco.org

Women at Play

The acting-playwriting group known as Women at Play will present its original, site-specific drama, Woman in a Yellow Dress, from October 20 through October 30 at the Bexley home of Mary Ellen and Sam Starr, 256 S. Columbia Avenue. The story centers on a poetry group’s encounters with a woman, yes, in a yellow dress, who has been stealing family photographs on which they have based their next poetry reading. Is the woman real or is she a Renoir portrait – and, if she is real, what are her motives for taking the photographs? Theater-goers who can wait until November 3 for the answers have a special treat awaiting them. The play will move to the auditorium of the Columbus Museum of Art, 480 E. Broad St. – and the first 50 ticket-buyers will also be given free admission tickets to the museum’s exhibit “Renoir’s Women.” Finally, on November 6, the production will complete its run at the Riffe Gallery, 77 S. High Street amid the paintings by Ohio women in the gallery’s exhibit “Breaking with Tradition.”

Women at Play’s artistic director Katherine Burkman will revive her staged reading of Marty Martin’s play Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein on February 12 at the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center, 1125 College Avenue. The play focuses on the time when author Gertrude Stein and her significant other, partner Alice B. Toklas, are being evicted from their famous studio at 27 rue de Fleurus where they hosted a salon frequented by writers and artists of the 1920s and 1930s.

And in the spring, the group will wrap up its season with the world premiere of Hungry Hearts, Katherine Burkman’s adaptation of Francine Prose’s 1983 novel. The story concerns a Yiddish theater group touring South America with a production of The Dybbuk. A dybbuk is a deceased individual who comes back to tend to unfinished business left on earth. In Hungry Hearts, the leading lady is invaded by a real dybbuk, and the play’s action springs from that. Hungry Hearts will be performed at the Roth/Resler Theater at the Leo Yassenoff Jewish Community Center, 1125 College Avenue.

For a subscription, or for more information, contact (614) 457-6580. Of course, there are many more theater companies in town, all producing some wonderful dramas, comedies, sketches and musicals this fall. Keep watching “In the Wings” for more information on these productions.

Onstage in August 2005

Shakespeare’s classic story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, continues on Actors’ Theatre’s summer stage in Schiller Park – but hurry. Performances will end August 7. Then, Oliver Goldsmith’s Restoration comedy She Stoops to Conquer will take over August 11 through September 4, exploring social mores that are as true today as they were when Goldsmith was alive. She Stoops to Conquer will be directed by guest director Mark Mann and will complete Actors’ season. Both productions run Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Schiller Park Amphitheatre in German Village. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

That lovin’ feeling is back at 2Co’s Cabaret, as the troupe performs Friends & Lovers, its variety entertainment show that focuses on relationships of all kinds. Included are sketches, monologues, short plays, even works from poets Billy Collins and beat poet Charles Bukowski – and plenty of music provided by house band Downtown DFN. Friends & Lovers will run every Thursday through Sunday until September 10. For information and/or reservations, contact (614) 265-7625, or visit the 2Co’s page at www.shadowboxcabaret.com

The Short North’s Mahan Gallery, 1042 N. High Street, will be the site of Miscreant’s latest production, Craig Wright’s Recent Tragic Events. The playwright, who writes for HBO’s Six Feet Under, has written a romantic/absurdist/ philosophical comedy about a blind date that takes place on September 12, 2001. The play explores chance versus choice, free will versus determination – and what happens when you play drinking games with Joyce Carol Oates as a sock puppet. Performances will be at 8 p.m. August 19 through August 21, with a 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, August 20. Tickets may be purchased at the door. For information, visit www.miscreantproductions.com, or you can email: info@miscreantproductions.com or call Elizabeth at (740) 591-5482.

Eat your heart out, Johnny Depp! Columbus Children’s Theatre is presenting its own (stage) version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from August 5 through August 14 at its theater, located at 512 Park Street in the Short North. Like Depp’s film, the CCT production is based on the book by Roald Dahl – and centers on Charlie Bucket, one of five lucky winners who are awarded a trip to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Angela Barch directs members of the Columbus Children’s Theatre Academy, ages 10 through 16, through this delicious storybook romp (recommended by ages four and up.) Willie Wonka will be performed by William Salmons, road manager for and a member of CCT’s Touring Company. Tickets are $8 for all ages and all performances. For reservations or more information, contact the CCT box office at (614) 224-6672, or visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Park Playhouse Teen Theater
will perform The Magician's Notebook on August 19 and August 26 at 7:30 p.m. and August 20 and August 27 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Columbus Performing Art Center's Shedd Theatre, 549 Franklin Ave. The Magician's Notebook is the sequel to C.S. Lewis' classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and combines realism and fantasy as young heroes Digory and Polly head off for adventures in an enchanted land, with sleeping queens, talking animals, and battles between good and evil. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students, children, and seniors. Come early. There are no reserved seats, only festival seating. For more information or for tickets, call (614) 645-7469.

Coming in September 2005

Besides the productions named above in the “sneak peek” section, you’ll also find the following productions arriving on stage in September.
Center Stage Players will present Cole Porter’s rousing musical Anything Goes from September 9 through September 11 at the Axis Nightclub located in the Short North at 775 N. High Street. For information, visit www.centerstageplayers.com

MadLab and Full Frontal Nudity will present Slow Children at Improv, a night of unscripted (and uncut) improv from September 22 through October 1. For information, visit www.madlab.net

July 2005

MadLab’s post-Fringe Festival review with Todd Thiel

It came, it went, and by all reports, it successfully captured (for the most part) the hearts of theater-goers everywhere. Columbus’s First Annual Fringe Festival opened on May 12, 2005 and took its final bow June 4, but not before exposing Columbus audiences to new and innovative works, exciting new companies, and some genuinely first-rate theater. The Columbus Fringe Festival was created and organized by members of MadLab Theatre – as an outgrowth of its popular, annual Theatre Roulette series. MadLab’s marketing director Todd Thiel takes a look back at Columbus’ First Fringe, performing a brief post-mortem review – what went right, what went wrong, and whether or not there will be a Fringe Festival 2006.

Todd Thiel

SNG: Did you model the Columbus Fringe Festival after any of the Fringe Festivals you may have attended – or participated in – in the past?
THIEL: We devoted a significant amount of time analyzing other fringe festivals for their back office architecture: marketing and publicity, scheduling, and admissions and artist payment policies. We knew we were not reinventing the wheel here. We truly sought to learn the lessons of the others who have done this before. From a producing entity view, different groups of MadLab performers brought a wide body of knowledge back from NYC or Cincy that we applied to our Fringe. One of our venue managers for the Columbus Fringe worked as a venue manager in Edinburgh in 2004. We did not plan this event in a vacuum.
SNG: What about this first Columbus Fringe Festival went well?
THIEL: The response to the Fringe brand was particularly satisfying to me from a publicity standpoint. I knew that the brand carried some cachet with it. I just did not know the extent that it would affect interest in the festival.
SNG: What would you do differently next year?
THIEL: Even though we started discussions among the board this time last year about producing the festival, I feel that we did not have enough time to learn all the things that we needed to learn. As an organization, we pay particular attention to learning those lessons so they don’t have to be learned again. We run post-mortem reviews with directors, staff, MadLab ensemble and others. We capture those lessons and save them for the next time. Having gone through this exercise this year, I would feel more comfortable producing a second run. Part of our financial plan for this Fringe was to secure enough revenue for seed money for the 2006 Fringe.
SNG: Do you think most Columbus theater-goers were aware of the festival?
THIEL: We budgeted a significant percentage of our expenses to advertising in an attempt to publicize the Fringe in order to draw a greater audience share. We bought radio air time on CD 101, advertising space in Columbus Alive and the Short North Gazette. We worked with the Drexel organizations to produce on-screen advertising at all three Drexel locations. Local media theater critics provided some extensive preview and review material in their publications.
SNG: Are you pleased with the attendance, considering that this was the first fringe festival here?
THIEL: Theatre Roulette (MadLab’s Fringe Festival offering) had a good attendance. The other shows in other venues produced a mixed bag of attendance. In-town organizations like Miscreant and BlueForms brought in audience. Out-of-town producing organizations that did not heavily publicize their show did not draw.
SNG: What do you think is unique about the Columbus Fringe Festival that you may not find at other fringe festivals?
THIEL: The inclusion of visual arts to the Fringe was a logical step. MadLab operates a self-sustaining gallery in its lobby. We worked with other local art galleries such as Kiaca, Acme, and Kirsten Bowen. I like to think we specialize in the underrepresented artist. We have a strong, committed group of volunteers who run that space and who were responsible for coordination and jurying the visual arts portion.
SNG: Were performers pleased with the festival and the audiences they drew?
THIEL: The Fringe is by definition minimalistic. There generally are not multiple tech rehearsal opportunities. Producing companies have to get in, get on, and get out of the venues. The stage and lights and sets are of basic design and function. That environment shocked some of our producing groups. Others took to the Fringe vibe very easily.
SNG: Do you think the festival may have attracted new people to the theater - ones who typically don’t attend? Or do you think you were drawing from the same crowd who typically attends theater in Columbus?
THIEL: MadLab drew its supporters from Canada again this year. They fly to Columbus every year for Roulette. I know it drew some new people to MadLab, certainly. We saw some new faces at every Roulette show. I was a venue manager for Jennifer Granville’s Rule of Three at First Congregational Church, and the majority of her audiences came up from Athens.
Whether we drew from the pool of theater-goers in Columbus, though, I couldn’t say. It’s a common theme of discussion for us at MadLab. Is there a select pool of potential audience members in central Ohio for live theater? Does drawing a member to the Fringe deprive another production of that potential attendee? I don’t know the definitive answer, but I would tend to agree with that statement.
SNG: Did the festival meet your expectations?
THIEL: Some shows were a hit; some bombed. Are financial measures the sole indicator of success? No. At the end of the day, though, the actors and directors and technical crews seized the opportunity to do something original. Did we create something good out of nothing? Possibly. Either way, we sure had fun doing it.

Onstage in July 2005


Actors’, BlueForms and much ado about love
Much Ado About Love, Actors’ Theatre’s current production, is a compilation of Shakespeare’s thoughts, feelings and words on love as expressed in four of his plays and a selected assortment of his poems and sonnets. It’s also the second compilation play created by Actors’ Artistic Director John Kuhn. His first, Shakespeare on Love, ran last season.

This time around, Kuhn turned for inspiration to a few of Shakespeare’s less frequently performed plays – Cymbeline, Henry VI – parts 1 and 2, and Much Ado About Love.

“I chose material that I thought would be fresh, something the audience hasn’t seen again and again,” says Kuhn.

And this year, he decided he wanted to have a little more fun with the production. So he contacted Matt Slaybaugh.

Slaybaugh is the founder and artistic director of BlueForms Theatre Group – named by American Theatre magazine as one of the country’s 12 “hot, hip and on the verge” theater companies.

“I had seen and admired BlueForms’ work, and I knew their strengths would be an asset to what we were doing,” says Kuhn.

BlueForms, explains Slaybaugh, works hard to think outside of the box. “We do things very differently from most theaters here and elsewhere,” he says. “I’m quite sure that most audience members won’t be used to what they’ll get from this show. It should be fun.”

And BlueForms, of course, is no stranger to love stories
Its original production, A/The PostModern Love Story, a compilation work itself, was critically acclaimed when BlueForms first presented it in Columbus two years ago, and since then, versions of it have appeared at both the Columbus and Cincinnati Fringe Festivals. The original production actually served as the inspiration for Kuhn’s earlier work, Shakespeare on Love.

When Kuhn approached Slaybaugh about a collaborative arrangement, the two agreed to work on this year’s compilation together. Both are listed as co-directors.

“John has been in one of our shows (Tulsa Lovechild) and a number of our readings, so when he suggested working together, it seemed only natural,” says Slaybaugh. “Hopefully we’ll all learn a little something from each other.”

Kuhn directed the scenes, because, as he explains, “my background is a little more grounded in the classics.”

Slaybaugh wrote the work’s “connective tissue,” the introduction, as well as the transitional parts that not only carry the audience smoothly from scene to scene, but also guides their understanding on who the characters are, what’s taking place, the themes, and the ramifications of each character’s choice about love.

“We draw some connections between what is in Shakespeare’s plays and what went on in his life. We wanted to guide the audience through the scenes we’re presenting, giving them a satisfying, emotional journey and also giving them something to think about along the way,” says Slaybaugh.

He adds that working with the Bard’s words was a daunting experience. “You have to approach it with a certain level of respect. It’s also a lot of fun because there’s nothing else like it.”
Still, both artists insist that you don’t need to be a Shakespeare scholar to enjoy the production.

“You don’t need to be familiar with the plays in order to enjoy this work,” says Kuhn.

That’s because Much Ado About Love relates the challenges and difficulties, the all too human condition of falling and being in love. And let’s face it. If you’re over the age of 13 and have a beating heart, you’re already well-versed in one of those subjects or the other.

“This play is for everyone,” adds Slaybaugh. “If you already love Shakespeare, this is a new way to experience his words. If you’re not familiar with his work, this will give you a taste of a lot of different plays while still talking to you in a way that’s fun and not so intimidating. You can’t go wrong.”

If you haven’t stopped by Schiller Park yet to catch a performance of Much Ado About Love, you still have time. Performances are free, but donations are accepted, so in the words of Othello’s Iago, “Put money in thy purse” – and go.

Actors’ Theatre’s Much Ado About Love has been playing at Schiller Park’s amphitheater since June 23 – and will continue through July 10, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening at 8 p.m. For more information on Much Ado About Love, or on Actors’ next production, Romeo and Juliet, which will run July 14 through August 7, visit www.theactorstheater.org

Southern Comfort - 2Co’s style…
The Short North’s 2Co’s Cabaret, continues to dish out Southern hospitality at its 790 N. High Street location with performances of Southern Comfort ‘05 through July 16. Next up: Friends and Lovers ‘05, 2Co’s annual salute to love and relationships, which will run July 20 through September 10, 2005. Look for a lively collection of music, poems and short plays that will explore all sorts of relationships – the highs, the lows, and the people who make relationships work, however that’s defined. For tickets or for more information, visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2 Co’s icon, or call (614) 265-7625.

Center Stage’s Evita experiment…
Center Stage Players is trying an experiment. It is sponsoring another group to direct and perform Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice musical about Argentina’s scheming, social-climbing First Lady, Eva Peron. Evita tells Peron’s story entirely through music and dance, and traces her beginnings from a naive, small-town girl through her rise in both power and prestige – first as a model, then an actress, and finally as the wife of General Juan Peron whose own ambitions drive him to the office of President of Argentina. Christopher Equizi directs the production which will be performed at Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street, from July 28 through July 31. For tickets or for more information, visit www.centerstageplayers.com and click on “our upcoming events.”

Children’s Drama Company stages princely tale…
Antoine de Saint Exupery’s charming tale of The Little Prince will be staged by the Children’s Drama Company at the Shedd Theatre, Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Ave. Performances are scheduled for July 13 through July 15 and July 20 through July 22. All performances will be at 1:30 p.m. For more information or for tickets, call (614) 645-7469.

Could Black Theater Survive in Columbus?

The big city names weren't surprising: Washington, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. The smaller cities, however, made you take notice. Places like St. Louis, Winston-Salem, Cleveland, Dayton. In each of these cities, and many more, black theater companies exist. Even thrive. So why isn't Columbus on that list?

Could black theater survive in Columbus?

That was one of the subjects explored at the final theater discussion series sponsored by the Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO) and organized by local writer and playwright Chiquita Mullins Lee.

The panel of talented artists assembled to discuss black theater included local actresses Sandy McCree, Patty Winbush and Sheila Ramsey, and actors Jonathan Tazwell and Truman Winbush. Sharron Kornegay served as moderator.

The evening began with an unusual, yet poignant introduction of the panelists. Kornegay asked each actor to recite a favorite line from a play and to share an especially memorable or humbling moment in theater. Lines ranged from works like August Wilson’s Fences to Shakespeare’s Othello – and all the memories offered dramatic examples of the power of theater.

Ramsey recalled a time when she was touring in a poetry play and found herself in a senior center reciting Bette Midler’s hit “The Rose” while signing the lyrics. A man at the back of the room had not reacted at all to Ramsey’s performance until that moment. He couldn’t wait to thank her for signing the words. He was deaf, and no other performer to date had ever sought to include him in the performance.

McCree told of a time following a performance when a small girl approached her and said, “I wish you were my mama.” “During that performance, that child went somewhere,” said McCree.

Patty Winbush became emotional over a line from Mullins Lee’s play in CATCO’s 2004 Shorts Festival, “You look at me like I’m crazy.” The line referred to an unfortunate period in Columbus history when blacks were unable to own property.

Truman Winbush said he is humbled by “all the goddesses” like Ramsay, McCree, and his wife Patty who give their heart to the theater.

And John Tazwell said he is humbled by “the work, which is bigger than me” – as well as those times when, like other actors, he takes roles that are less than desirable, just so he can earn a living acting.

Here are some other highlights from the discussion :

Legitimacy
Tazwell pointed out that African-Americans have been creating theater forever, but that “our contributions have only been recognized recently.”

“The road has been paved by a lot of people before us,” he said.

Still, he added, blacks find themselves having to perform roles like Othello and other classic roles to legitimize themselves as actors.

Tyler Perry
Panelists agreed that there is a place in black theater for humor, and that the work of actor-writer Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) brings audiences into the theater, but at what costs to African-Americans?

“I can’t patronize Tyler at this point in my career,” said McCree.

His work, as well as movies like Dancing in September and Bamboozled, perpetuates stereotypes of African-Americans that are simply not true, said Ramsey. “We’re not like that. There are so many different sides to us.”

Yet what the public generally sees from these movies are the gay hairdresser, the person who is “saved” – usually from some home-wrecking woman – the member of the gospel choir.
“And men are so demeaned in those films,” says Ramsey. “They are womanizers or abusers. If we set (these movies) up as an example, we give the idea that this is O.K. and it’s not.”

Mainstream Audiences
Patty Winbush recalled a time when she was performing in CATCO’s production of Sisters, a play about the light skin/dark skin issue which remains, even now, a sensitive subject for blacks.

“I don’t think people were prepared for this production,” she said. “They weren’t expecting to see a black play on this issue, so many people left at intermission. Columbus was not ready for it.”

Panelists praised Dael Orlandersmith’s powerful play Yellowman, a recent finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which tackles the issue of light skin/dark skin head-on.

Ramsey, who had directed a production of the play in Dayton, said the actor talk back for Yellowman addressed issues more profound than those typically addressed in such discussions. “The play is about the things we do to each other,” she said, and much of the discussion centered on that subject as well as some of the solutions suggested by the script.

But Winbush’s experience, like those of many black actors, is why theater is different for African-Americans, says Tazwell. “We need to level the playing field. It’s why we need black theater.”

The Need For Black Theater
When Ramsey was asked how she was able to create a black theater in Dayton, she attributed it to Dayton’s rich cultural environment.

“We have the Human Race Theatre, and it produces black plays occasionally – but it’s not Human Race’s mission to produce black theater,” Ramsey said.

So she started The Dreamkeeper Theatre Company, a black theater, to ensure that “our voices are heard – all of our voices.”

She said she was surprised at first that the black community failed to show the same level of support as the white community, where most of her funding comes from. “But I began to see that they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that they have a responsibility to support black theater and black arts. That’s something we need to instill in our children from an early age.”

Ramsey went on to echo sentiments similar to those that have been voiced by Bill Cosby. “It’s not always the white people who create the problems,” she said. “It’s the things we do to each other.”

McCree said she learned from a young age that it was her personal responsibility to support other black artists. When she learns there is a black actor she knows, or maybe doesn’t know, in a production, she goes to the performance, even if she has to travel to see the play. “You’ve got a torch to carry, “she said.

Kornegay added that black theater reaches out to a group of people which many theater companies ignore.

“There is an audience out there,” said Tazwell

“But you can’t expect us to respond like Pavlov’s dogs and show up in February,” said Stevie Meredith, an actress who attended the discussion. “That’s when the mainstream theater performs black plays. But we read the paper. We see the ads, and we see that they don’t offer black plays any other time of the year, so why should we think they represent us?”

Panelists did not believe that the creation of a black theater would draw away from what is, already, a relatively small theater-going crowd in Columbus. On the contrary, they said, creating a theater-going habit in the black community could even increase attendance at mainstream theaters.

“What we do need to do is convince people living here that they don’t have to leave Columbus to see quality theater,” said Tazwell.

The Reality
At one time, Columbus had black theater, said Truman Winbush. Center Stage was the primary one, although there were several other companies before and after it.

“The trouble is, black theater here became very territorial. You would be ostracized if you went to work for another (mainstream) theater company. It happened to Patty and it happened to me,” he said.

Again, an example of “what we do to each other,” said Ramsey.

There is no question that the black community needs to support the arts, said Tazwell, but as a society, today, “we don’t value the arts. There are funding cuts in arts education and in arts across the board.”

But panelists remain hopeful that society in general and the black community in particular will rise to the challenge of creating a home for black theater.

“It takes leadership, organization, responsibility and support,” says McCree. “But we have to have our voice represented. Our views and our thoughts need to be out there. We need to be heard.”

June 2005

Women Rule The Stage: Frank Talk on Art, Family, and Theater

It’s hard to say whether it was the topic or the illustrious panel who came to discuss it, but “Women Rule the Stage” – the third segment of the Contemporary American Theatre Company’s (CATCO) four-part theater discussion series – drew its largest crowd to date to Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street, on May 3.

CATCO’s discussion series, organized by Ohio playwright and CATCO board member Chiquita Mullins Lee, began in March with a staged reading and follow-up discussion of To Hear Ruby Sing, a play about the stage, screen and music performer Ruby Elzy. An “Actors on Acting” panel discussion followed in April.

The May 3 “Women Rule the Stage” presentation featured Ann C. Hall, a playwriting professor at Ohio Dominican University, as moderator, and a panel composed of freelance director Pam Hill; Joy Reilly, OSU theater professor and founder of Grandparents Living Theatre (now Senior Repertory of Ohio); Katherine Burkman, artistic director of Women at Play; and Maureen Ryan, artistic director of Red Herring Theatre Ensemble.

Here’s a brief look at some of the evening’s highlights:

Are there specific obstacles to women in theatre?
Maureen Ryan says she hasn’t run into any specific obstacles because she’s a woman, but maybe that’s because “I never let it be a problem,” she says. “(Gender) shouldn’t even be on the table.”

Yet, for some of the panelists, sexual discrimination has been an issue.

Pam Hill described an effort to enter Yale’s directing program (twice) and says she simply wasn’t taken seriously as an applicant. At the time she applied, Yale’s theater department was still very patriarchal. “They didn’t accept a female candidate until the 1990s,” she says.

Katherine Burkman countered that she was accepted at Yale prior to the ‘90s (although she chose not to go), but only after a male mentor sent a letter on her behalf. She says she has also run up against patronizing attitudes, especially in the world of academia, where “Women are sometimes seen as having no energy because they’re often dealing with a family in addition to theater,” she says. She adds that she successfully fought those attitudes by “taking the time to be taken seriously.”

Joy Reilly says she “could have been more active” in theater, but chose, instead, to work on a family. She came to parenthood relatively late, and adds she doesn’t regret her decision to take time out for family. Instead, she says, she finds motherhood a rich source for stage material.

All of the panelists agreed that they find great joy in working with their female colleagues, and Reilly adds that if there is one aspect that women have contributed to the theater, it’s the ability to work collaboratively.

“It’s still tough for women in theater,” says Burkman, “but when women get together, we don’t compete.”

In fact, women’s nurturing instinct finds a comfortable home in theater. “I don’t have children, so I find that all of my nurturing goes into my art,” says Ryan.

Such nurturing pays off. Ryan has worked for several years with a group of inmates at the Ross Correctional Institute in productions that dramatize their stories for select audiences of prison correction professionals. This program also allows them to engage in post-performance discussions.

“For some of these inmates, it’s the first time they’ve been treated with respect,” says Ryan.

A perfect example of the humanizing nature of theater.

What’s the future of theater – where will it be in 50 years?
Joy Reilly says theater is “challenged at the moment” and points to her own experience with Ohio State University “Introduction to Theater” students as proof. “These are not theater students who live and die theater. These are students who may or may not have attended theater before.” She says it’s difficult to keep them engaged. “We resort to pop culture. We draw them into theater by talking about reality shows and current films. I now know about gaming,” she adds.

Maureen Ryan says today’s theater professionals have a “responsibility to keep re-defining the art form” the way that Anne Bogart and Mary Zimmerman do – by creating pieces that are innately theatrical yet different from what’s often viewed as conventional theater. “We have to look stylistically at where we are now, and where we can go.”

Ann Hall urged attendees to write to legislators to encourage more support for the arts. “I look at theater audiences today, and they’re all the same. They’re older, they’re affluent. We need more funding to introduce other groups to theater.”

Naturally, it didn’t take long for children to be introduced into the discussion – and all agreed that theater’s future may well lie in their hands. With today’s shortage of arts funding, however, that future could be dim unless new ways can be found to introduce more children to theater and the arts, or more parents take that responsibility upon themselves.

If you could choose to perform or direct a strong female theatrical character, who would it be?
The variety of answers to this question shows how many powerful roles there are for women in theater.

Ann Hall said “hands down” she would choose the role of Ruth from Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. “She’s a woman who is comfortable with her sexuality, despite the men around her who are trying to oppress her.”

Pam Hill said she’s always wanted to take a crack at Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?

Joy Reilly responded by saying she’d like to revive a role she performed in her 30s – Eleanor of Aquitaine, from James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter. “I thought I was old enough then to play the role,” says Reilly. “Now, I have a much better understanding of her. I’ve lived that woman. She was audacious. I’m amazed a woman like that existed at that time.”

Katherine Burkman says she’s been able to play all three characters she’s ever wanted to perform: the mad woman in Jean Giraudoux’s The Mad Woman of Chaillot (“for the sheer fun of playing mad”); Winnie from Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (“because Beckett’s poetry is so dear to me”), and Gertrude Stein in the one-woman show Burkman has performed several times in Columbus and elsewhere. “She’s someone I’ve become very interested in,” she says.
Maureen Ryan says that while she’d also like a chance to perform the role of Albee’s Martha, she’d also choose the role of Josie Hogan from Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. “I understand her story,” Ryan says.

Who are today’s new female voices?
The panelists named Mary Zimmerman, Anne Bogart, Paula Voight, Marsha Norman, Anna Deveare Smith, and the Irish playwright Marina Carr as favorites.

Joy Reilly added that more and more theater students are choosing to create and perform their own solo shows, so it’s likely more female voices will emerge in the future, and she finds that exciting.

“We began to teach a course in creating solo pieces because we found that more and more students were doing that,” she says.

These students are addressing issues that are important to them, Reilly says.

She cited an example of an African-American acting student at OSU who created a work, Bitter Bitchings of a Black Actress, to give voice to her theater department experience. “She was always cast in plays, she was in most of them, but never in the lead role. She’d be the best friend, or a minor character,” says Reilly. The performance piece paints the actress’s frustration in a way that’s sharp, witty and funny.

Ultimately, it may be these deeply personal performance pieces, dredged up from the soul and sent out into the world from a humble stage, that best demonstrate how women truly rule the stage.

By sharing their experiences, their unique voices, they hold up a mirror to the rest of us. And through them, we find (and hopefully nurture) our own humanity.

CATCO’s Theater Discussion Series continues on June 14 with Sharon Kornegay moderating a panel discussion that explores the richness of Black Theatre and the difficulty of establishing a black presence in Columbus. Panelists include: Sandy McCree – Columbus; Jonathan Tazwell – Kenyon College; Patty Winbush – Columbus; and Alan Bomar Jones – Dayton. The seminar is free, and will be held in Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 South High St. For more information, contact Robin Gordon at CATCO, (614) 461-1382, ext. 110.

NEW IN JUNE …

CATCO’s Boston Marriage, June 3-26, 2005
During the 19th century, Boston Marriage was the term used for a long-term romantic friendship between unmarried women who were free to cohabitate and share intensely emotional relationships with each other. Today, of course, we’d avoid the euphemism and just call them lesbians.

Playwright David Mamet, who wrote three of CATCO’s greatest hits (American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow, and Glengarry, Glen Ross) takes a new direction in Boston Marriage, a comedy-of-manners play in the spirit of Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward, which the Contemporary American Theatre Company (CATCO) will perform June 3-26 in Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street.

The play’s two major characters, Anna and Claire, are two sophisticated, Victorian women, barely hanging onto the fringe of an upper-class society.

They need money, and Anna announces she has found a “protector” – a smitten, older gentleman who will support their lifestyle – just as Claire stands ready to make her own announcement. She has fallen in love with a younger woman.

As is typical in drawing room fare, there are plenty of reversals, surprises, and sharp wit as the pair show just how much all marriages have in common – no matter the gender of the duos involved. For more information or for tickets, contact (614) 469-0939.

Hand Dog Theatre's Baltimore Waltz, June 9-25
When playwright Paula Vogel's brother died of AIDS in 1987, she wrote Baltimare Waltz, a thinly disguised parable about AIDS.

Anna, an elementary school teacher, has recently come down with a case of ATD (Acquired Toilet Disease) which she picked up from the school children she teaches. Her brother Carl escorts Anna on a whirlwind tour of Europe in search of an ATD cure.

There is more to the story, of course, but why spoil surprises? Suffice it to say that Vogel has written a poignant, touching, funny play that is as timely today as it was 20 years ago when it was first written.

If you haven't seen it, now's your chance. Hand Dog Theatre will present performances of Baltimore Waltz at Studio 16, 17 Buttles Avenue in the Short North. Play dates are June 9-11; 16-18; and 24-25. For more information, show times, and/or to reserve tickets, call 614-886-0452, or e-mail handdogtheatre@yahoo.com

WETCo’s Stuck, June 9-19
The Women’s Explosive Theatre Company (WETCo) will end its second season with Stuck, a play by the up-and-coming young playwright Jessica Goldberg.

Stuck tells the story of two small-town girls, Lula and Margaritah, who want to break free from their small-town existence but don’t know how. Both young women end up in unlikely and unpromising relationships and find themselves facing their deepest desires (and fears) in a horrific climax that serves only to underline their own self-set limitations.

The company’s public relations director Allyson Morgan says, “WETCo has chosen to produce Stuck because not only do the visceral, accessible, and deeply human characters created by Ms. Goldberg resonate within the company, but the desire to pursue a vision of a better life is something that is all too familiar to so many in the Columbus community.”

Christa Keim will direct WETCo’s two co-founders, Lindsey Carr and Leah Reddy, in the lead roles. Also in the cast are Emily Bach, Mike DeNoble and Mark Mann.

Performances will be held June 9, 10, 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. and June 19 at 2 p.m. at the Columbus Dance Theatre, 592 E. Main Street (on Main just west of I-71.)

Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. For more information or to order tickets, call (614) 258-8662 or e-mail wetcomanager@yahoo.com Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door. Visit www.wetco.org

Short Stop Youth Center’s African-American Folktale, June 16-18
How Mister Alligator Became Who He is Today, or You Never Know What Trouble is Until it Finds You, a collaborative piece, written by the professional theater, vocal and dance instructors of Short Stop Youth Center, incorporates an elaborate and beautiful dance sequence as well as powerful original music and unique staging.

The well-to-do Alligator family lives by the River and has no worries and no idea what Trouble is. One day, Brer Rabbit sets a plan in motion to teach the alligator family all about Trouble. Brer Rabbit tricks the family into following him on a trek through the Forest and into the Fields. This is where the family finds out what you get when you go looking for trouble! This is a great tale for audiences young and old.

Performances are scheduled for June 16, 17, and 18 at 8:00 p.m. aat the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High Street. Call (614) 299-2661.


Actors’ Theatre’s Much Ado About Love, June 23-July 10
William Shakespeare had a thing or two to say about love, and Actors’ Theatre is wrapping some of his best words on the subject into their revue Much Ado About Love, which will run June 23 through July 10 at the Schiller Park Amphitheater in German Village.

The work has been compiled, written and directed by Actors’ Theatre Artistic Director John S. Kuhn.

The Bard is justly famous for some of theater’s most romantic stories and heartfelt lines, so whether you’re an incurable romantic (or just want to pick up a few tips to improve your love life), here’s your chance to learn from the master.

Shows run Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m., and, of course, are free, although donations are gratefully accepted.

Bring a picnic dinner, a blanket, a lawn chair – and enjoy the show. Visit www.theactorstheatre.org.

And the Shows Go On…

Red Herring’s Big Love continues through June 11 at Studio Two in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. The Charles Mee comedy remakes Aeschlyus’ Suppliant Maidens, a tale of 50 arranged marriages that go darkly awry. Expect a lot of physical action and fun from Red Herring’s sizable, talented cast. For tickets, call (614) 469-0939.

2Co’s Cabaret is still dishing out its version of Southern Comfort through July 16 at the Short North Playhouse, 790 N. High Street. The evening includes the do’s and don’t of White Trash Living (in the monologue Stop Watching your Plasma TV), and the dark comedy Laundry and Bourbon in which three women discuss the men in their lives and dreams deferred. Rockabilly and bluegrass music keep the atmosphere “down home.” For more information or for tickets, call (614) 470-2267.

Actors’ Theatre’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona will end June 19, so there is still time to catch this early Shakespeare comedy – the first time on Actors’ Theatre’s stage. There are the Bard’s typical mixups and confusions before friends reconcile, lovers make amends, and all ends happily ever after. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m. at the Schiller Park Amphitheater in German Village. Visit www.theactorstheatre.org.

BlueForms Theatre Group will take its critically acclaimed and revised production of A/The Postmodern Love Story to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival this month. If you didn’t catch the show during the Columbus Fringe Festival, it will appear through June 11 at the Cincy Fringe. For information on the times and locations for A/The Postmodern Love Story, as well as the Cincinnati Festival line-up, visit www.CincyFringe.com or call (513) 319-9384.

May 2005

Mainstream or Fringe? Theater lovers should try both

May is a great month for theater in Columbus. From the city’s first Fringe Festival to the return of Actors’ Theater at Schiller Park, you’re bound to find something enjoyable to watch -- whether or not you’re a theater regular. Here’s the lineup. Judge for yourself.

The Columbus Fringe Festival, May 12 – June 4

Available Cupholders: No Games, Just Prov ©

MadLab Theatre will expand its annual Theatre Roulette production into the first-ever Columbus Fringe Festival.

The Fringe Festival originated in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has spread all over the world, including the U.S., of course. Philadelphia, Seattle, Orlando, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and such theater-rich cities as New York and Chicago all sponsor annual Fringe Festivals – and last year, Cincinnati joined the group with its first Fringe Festival.

You can expect to find more experimental work at these festivals – avant-garde dramas and outrageous comedies, sometimes dealing with sensitive or controversial subject matter. And sometimes, Fringe Festival productions go on to score the big time – a run on Broadway, like the popular Fringe musical Urinetown.

The Columbus Fringe Festival will include visual, dance and performance art in addition to the following theatrical performances:

MadLab’s Theatre Roulette – featuring an alternating schedule of programs that play every weekend on a different night. Check MadLab’s Web site, www.madlab.net, or call (614) 470-2333 for the complete schedule, for more information, or for tickets.

“Larceny” (featuring A Top Notch Man, Paralyzed July, and The Smugglers Three.)
“Love” (featuring Fugue, Today’s Special, Clazion Catches Light, and Surprise.)
“Loss” (featuring White Light, The Team Player, Nothing Lost, and Cloudy.)
US! Talking Across America, written and produced by Ray McNiece– May 11 and 12, 8 p.m., Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street in the Short North.
I Will Make You Orphans, written and produced by Sean Lewis – May 13 and 14, 8 p.m., Axis Nightclub.
Long Journey Home, written and produced by Mad River Theatre Works – May 14, at 2 and 8 p.m. at MadLab Theater, 105 N. Grant Ave.
The Rule of Three, written and performed by Jennifer Granville, May 19-21, at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 444 E. Broad St.
Available Cupholders, written and performed by Available Cupholders, May 20-21 at 8 p.m. at Axis Nightclub.
The Princess of New Rome, Ohio, written and produced by Jonathan Joy, May 20-21 at 8 p.m. at Columbus Dance Theatre, 2325 Wood Ave.
A/ThePostModernLoveStory, written and produced by BlueForms Theatre Group, May 20-22 at 8 p.m. at Linworth Alternative, 2075 W. Dublin-Granville Rd.
The Judgment of Fred, written by Ryan Burley and produced by Eye Stop Productions, May 26-27, at 8 p.m. at the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High St. in the Short North
Pandora Revisited: Hope in All of Us, written and produced by Kevin Cordi and Jeannie Smith, May 28-29 at 2 and 4 p.m. at MadLab Theatre.
Hollywoodland, written by Elizabeth Nolan Broan and produced by Miscreant Productions, June 2-4, at 8 p.m. at the Short Stop Youth Center.

Ticket prices for the Fringe Festival run from $12 for a single performance to $30 for a three-show pass. Tickets will be available at the venue, one hour before scheduled performances. You can also purchase tickets in advance by calling MadLab.

For more information about the Fringe Festival itself, check out www.columbusfringefestival.com

Actors’ Theatre kicks off with Two Gentlemen of Verona
Actors’ Theatre, which performs each season at the Schiller Park Amphitheatre in German Village, kicks off its 24th season with William Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Performances will be held Thursday through Sunday, May 26 through June 19, at 8 p.m.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s early comedies, and the first time it has been performed by Actors’ Theatre. The play explores the nature of friendship and love with all of the Bard’s usual comedic mix-ups, double entendres and cross-dressing.

The performance will be directed by Actors’ artistic director, John S. Kuhn.

For more information, visit www.theactorstheatre.org, or call (614) 444-6888. All performances of Actors’ Theatre are free, but arrive early for the best view – and don’t forget to byob – bring your own blanket (or lawn chair).

Red Herring offers 2000 Humana hit Big Love
When Louisville, Kentucky’s Humana Theatre Festival kicked off in 2000, one of the biggest hits to emerge was a zany remaking of Aeschlyus’ Suppliant Maidens. Playwright Charles Mee has crafted the ancient Greek story about 50 brides who rebel against 50 grooms into the play Big Love – the second of his “love trilogy” that began with First Love and concludes with True Love.

Red Herring will premiere Big Love in Columbus – and it could well be one of the eclectic theater troupe’s most ambitious projects to date. Big Love has been described as a messy, over-the-top theatrical event – and considering the play includes a large cast engaging in, among other things, an orgy, a food fight, and a massacre, it’s not hard to imagine why. Still, Mee has placed some key thoughts into the play – ideas about justice and revenge, as well as a sly look at how human operate in “crisis mode.”  Admittedly, the results aren’t always pretty.

Big Love will be performed May 19 through June 11 in Studio Two at the Vern Riffe Center, 77 South High Street. For more information or tickets, visit www.redherring.org or call (614) 469-0939.

Bread and Circus and The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife
After exploring ancient history last month with its world premiere, The Age of Wolves, Bread and Circus Theatreis turning to more contemporary fare this month with Charles Busch’s Broadway hit The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.

The play centers around Marjorie Taub, a New York doctor’s wife and culture aficionado, whose mid-life crisis is suddenly brought on by the mysterious reappearance of a childhood friend. Busch’s social commentary is so accurate and so funny it earned the play a Tony nomination when it first appeared.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wifewill run May 13 through May 21 at the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High St. in the Short North  For tickets or for more information, call (614) 470-4895  Tickets will also be available at the door.

CCT ends season with Three Little Pigs
Columbus Children’s Theatre is bringing back one of its most popular, interactive shows for children and adults alike -- The Three Little Pigs.

Adapted by CCT artistic director William Goldsmith, this version of the classic fairy tale has been updated and modernized, specifically for today’s entertainment-savvy audiences. Was the Big Bad Wolfe really that bad? What on earth prompted those pigs to build houses out of straw? The CCT Touring Company presents the tell-all, real-true Hollywood story-behind-the-story.  It’s gossip with a porcine flavor.

The Three Little Pigs will run May 13 through May 22 at the Columbus Children’s Theatre, 512 N. Park Street in the Short North. Visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org for more information about the show, or for tickets. You can also contact the CCT box office, (614) 224-6672.

Rosebriar Shakespeare Company Taming of the Shrew
The veteran Rosebriar Shakespeare Company, a player on the Columbus theatre scene since 1990, is returning to the Columbus Performing Arts Center
(the former Davis Discovery Center) – after a hiatus – with a performance of Shakespeare’s classic battle of the sexes comedy Taming of the Shrew. The producation will be staged May 12-14, and 19-21 at 8:00 pm and a matinee will be offered at 2:00 pm on May 15. Held in Van Fleet Theatre, 549 Franklin Ave. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for students. Group discounts are available. Call 614-470-1616 for more information.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
As far as fairy tales go, Cinderella is probably as good as it gets. You’ve got your handsome prince, some loathsome stepsisters, and the original Extreme Makeover candidate whose fairy godmother makes the transformation instead of a team of plastic surgeons. Add a few songs by Rodgers & Hammerstein and you find yourself with a magical evening in front of you.

The Rodgers & Hammerstein’s version of Cinderella first aired on television in 1957 with Julie Andrews playing the winsome cinder maid. By 1965, Lesley Ann Warren had taken over the role, and in 1997, teen star Brandy was slipping her foot inside the glass slipper.

Now, the Children’s Drama Company and Park Playhouse Teen Theatre will perform their own version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’sCinderella at the Columbus Performing Art Center’s Shedd Theatre, 549 Franklin Ave, May 13 and May 20 at 7:30 p.m. and May 14 and 21 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students, children and seniors.  There is festival seating, so arrive early for the best seats.

For more information or for tickets, contact (614) 465-7469.

And the shows go on…

Don’t forget the following productions that are still being offered through May…

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) -- The Contemporary American Theatre Company continues its production of 37 Shakespeare-plays-rolled-into-one at the Vern Riffe Center’s Studio One theater, 77 South High Street through May 8. If you’re a student, a student of Shakespeare, or someone who just always thought the Bard was working from one major plot anyway, this is a must-see presentation. For tickets, contact (614) 469-0939, or visit www.catco.org for more information.

Love, Laughter and Lies2Co’s Cabaret continues to perform its take on love and relationships at its Short North theater, 790 N. High St.  Crowds have been enthusiastic about this year’s show, so if you haven’t seen it, you still have some time left to join the fun. Love, Laughter and Lies continues through May 21. For tickets or information, contact (614) 470-2267 or visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on the 2Co’s icon.

Best Little Whorehouse in TexasCenter Stage Players will continue to perform the big-hearted musical about a little ole’ Texas chicken ranch-turned-brothel through May 7 at the Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street. Visit the Center Stage Players Web site for ticket information, www.centerstageplayers.com

APRIL 2005

Onstage in April
2Co’s revives its “L” show

2Cos Cabaret production of Love, Laughter and Lies is proving to be an audience favorite. Performers left to right: Jennifer Hahn, Chris Lynch, and John Croke.

Love, Laughter and Lies is proving to be an audience favorite at 2Co’s Cabaret, 790 N. High Street, in the Short North. This year’s production should be no exception. The company takes a look at the “best of our worst forays into relationships.” For example, take:

• Marilyn and David, Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna’s play about a bride who is riding a high-speed coaster of emotions on her wedding night; or
• My Therapist Bob, a look at two sensitive singles who need the help of a psychotherapist to get through their dates; or
• Love for the First Whore, the story of a courtship between an alcoholic and the barfly of his dreams.

If you think you can match these relationship, or do them one better, then you belong at this production. The company’s house band, Downtown DFM, will add its own brand of musical relationship stories. Performances began March 23, and will run every Thursday through Sunday until May 21. For information and/or reservations, call (614) 265-7625, or visit 2Co’s Web site, www.shadowboxcabaret.com (click on the 2Co icon).

Best Little Whorehouse – in Columbus

Center Stage Players, the home troupe of the Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street in the Short North, will perform Larry L. King’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, on April 29 and 30 and May 1, 6, and 7. “I have always wanted to produce this musical in a cabaret-style setting,” says director Alan Saunders. “It lends itself to some great audience interaction!”

A cast of 30 is involved in this musical-comedy classic, about a well-known “chicken ranch” in Texas that’s exposed as a popular brothel. Cast members will whet your appetite for the production by performing impromptu numbers from the play at the April 2 Gallery Hop – or, if you aren’t able to catch them there, head over to the Union Station Video Café on April 24, where the cast will perform a brief preview of the show (one night only!) at Sunday Night Showtunes. Just don’t forget to buy your tickets to the entire show.

It promises to be zany, quirky, campy – and plenty of fun. For information or reservations, visit the troupe’s Web site, www.centerstageplayers.com or call (614) 306-0447.

Women at Play's new malady

Are you suffering from spring fever? Women at Play may be able to help. Orchidelirium, the troupe’s spring production, will be performed April 7, 10, 12, 14, and 17 – and because the group has a penchant for site-specific locations, the play will be performed at the Franklin Park Conservatory’s Palm House. The Conservatory is located at 1777 E. Broad St., and if all the greenery and exotic scents don’t restore your spirits, the play just might.

Written by Canadian playwright Dave Carley, who adapted Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman into a play performed by Women at Play last year, Orchidelirium had a successful off-Broadway run in 2004. The story focuses on the passion for orchids which has consumed mankind for centuries, and was beautifully described in Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief. (For non-readers, the movie Adaptation was based loosely on the Orlean book.)

Carley’s play, however, takes this time-honored obsession, and adds a time-travel element to it, weaving together the story of two couples, one contemporary, one Victorian, who are both enamored with the delicate flowers. Also figuring into the plot is the orchid’s medicinal properties – which heightens the interest of the pharmaceutical industry. Can big corporations and profits be far behind?

Playwright Carley will travel to Columbus during the second week of production, and will participate in talkbacks after the April 14 and 17 performances. Tickets are $20, with $5 discounts to seniors, students and Conservatory members. For more information, or to reserve seats, call Katherine Burkman at (614) 457-6580.

CATCO reduces Shakespeare

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which the Contemporary American Theatre Company was scheduled to perform in April, has become something of a mid-spring mirage. You won’t be seeing it anywhere except on those subscription cards the company printed earlier in the season. But don’t be miffed, Shakespeare fans, CATCO is slyly offering you the Bard’s complete works instead.

Of course, they are slightly abridged. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) will be performed April 15-May 8 in Studio One at the Riffe Center, 77 South High Street. If you haven’t yet seen this hilarious, fast-paced show, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, you’re in for a treat. Neither Will’s comedies nor tragedies are spared from clever condensing – in fact, thirty-seven Shakespeare plays are rolled into this one grand compilation. Think of Othello done as a rap, Titus Adronicus as a cooking show, and Hamlet performed with sock puppets and you’ll have a taste of what to expect.

CATCO Artistic Director Geoff Nelson directs Jonathan Putnam, the company’s associate artistic director, Brian Otting (seen in CATCO’s Lobby Hero) and Los Angeles actor (and former CATCO acting fellow) Tod Zimmerman, all of whom take on multiple roles throughout. For more information, or to reserve tickets, call (614) 469-0939.

Children’s stages a Beauty

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – along with all those dancing teacups – is coming to Columbus Children’s Theatre (CCT) this month. CCT is the first theater in Central Ohio to present the musical straight from its Broadway run – and that may explain why lines were so long when auditions were held. This Tony-award winning version of the classic beauty-is-only-skin-deep tale is a must-see event. Grandparents as well as children, ages four and up, are sure to enjoy the music and dancing, the sets and costumes, and of course the story with its powerful and timeless message. You’re cautioned to reserve your seat early, for this show is likely to be an early sell-out. Performances begin April 14 and run through May 1. For more information, or to reserve your seat, call the CCT box office, (614) 224-6672 or e-mail cctboxoffice@sbcglobal.net

CATCO discussion series explores theater arts

Let’s say you love theater and have been attending for years. Or maybe you're at the other end of the spectrum. You attended productions in high school to see friends perform, but you haven't stepped inside a theater since.

Whether you're a theater novice or theater regular, the Contemporary American Theater Company (CATCO) offers you an opportunity to learn more about the theater arts through its free Discussion Series. The series is open to all theater lovers and is held on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in Studio One at the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Local artists host each of the discussions.

The series began last month with a staged reading of To Hear Ruby Sing, a play about the stage, screen and music performer Ruby Elzy, adapted by CATCO board member and local writer Chiquita Mullins Lee from a series of letters Elzy exchanged with OSU professor, and personal friend, C.C. McCracken. Mullins Lee hosted the discussion that followed, which included remarks from David Weaver, author of Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy.

The series continues this month, on April 19, with Columbus actress Robin Gordon hosting a discussion, “Actors on Acting.” Among the panel of actors will be Patty Winbush, Linda Dorff, Marianne Timmons, and Alan Bomar Jones.

“Women Rule the Stage: Women in Theatre” will be next. That discussion, hosted by Ann C. Hall, will be held May 3 and feature Joy Reilly, Katherine Burkman, Pam Hill and Maureen Ryan.

The final discussion will be held in June (date to be determined) and will cover the subject of “Blacks in the Theater.”

“The discussion series was started a year ago as an educational outreach program for CATCO,” says Mullins Lee. Last year's programs featured discussions on directing and scenic and costume design.

“We see the discussion series as a way to bring everyone into the whole theater experience,” says Mullins Lee. “Those who attend the discussions learn about each aspect of theater, and how those elements are brought together to create drama.”

It's like Theater 101 – without the homework. And without the tuition. In other words, it's a perfect opportunity to brush up on your culture.

Circle the Discussion Series dates on your calendar now and make plans to go. It's an easy and inexpensive way to enrich your life.

For more information about CATCO's Discussion Series, contact Robin Gordon, (614) 461-1382, Ext. 110.

New productions coming in May 2005

Columbus’s First Fringe Festival…

MadLab Theatre hosts the city’s first-ever fringe festival next month. Plays, including a remake of Blueform’s popular A/The PostModernLoveStory and Mad-Lab’s Theatre Roulette 2005, will be held at various locations throughout the city.

Big Love: Red Herring Theatre will stage the hit of the 2000 Humana Festival from May 19 through June 11 in Studio Two at the Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street.

The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife: The Short North’s Bread and Circus Theatre will stage this Broadway play, written by Charles Busch, who also penned the very funny Psycho Beach Party (staged by Eye Stop Productions last summer).

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Pack a picnic and head for Schiller Park. Actors’ Theatre begins its summer season with this early Shakespeare comedy.

The Three Little Pigs: The “true Hollywood story behind the story” of this classic children’s tale will be told as only Columbus Children’s Theatre can.

More details on all of the above productions will be included in next month’s “In the Wings” column.

MARCH 2005

On the left is Pete Swingle as the monk Gerbert, "the Da Vinci of the Dark Ages," presenting a chest containing a silk scarf dyed "royal purple" (a color so rare in an era of natural dyes that usually only royalty got to wear it) to his consort Stephania (no celibacy rules back then), played by Cynthia Frazzini. Pete is appearing in his second show with BCTC, while Cindy is a local veteran who has been working with many troupes around town for the last ten years. "Gerbert" is also known to history as Pope Sylvester II.

This month, the Bread and Circus Theatre Company (BCTC) will mount its most ambitious project to date – and perhaps one of the most ambitious theater pieces ever to be offered Columbus audiences.

Age of Wolves, written by Howard and Mony Carpenter, will have its world premiere at the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High Street, on Friday, March 11. Performances will continues Saturday, March 12 and Sunday, March 13, with additional performances scheduled March 18-20 and March 25-26. Because of the play’s three-hour run time, all performances will begin at 7:30 p.m.

Howard Carpenter, BCTC artistic director, started writing the play in early 1999, just before the turn of the century.

“As the 21st-century approached, I started thinking about all those fringe groups who preach the end of the world as the end of the century approaches.”

He began researching the subject, and serendipity, he says, led him to the (true) story of 23-year-old Byzantium princess Theophano, who suddenly ascends the throne of her husband, Otto II, the German emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. That story, told through the eyes of a sagacious monk, fills the first act, although it could have been the entire play.

“Sure it could,” says Carpenter. “It’s a heckuva story – but the reality is, the story doesn’t end there.”

Otto III, the son that Theophano leaves behind when she dies, has his own act to fill. His dream is to unite the Holy Roman Empire with the Eastern Empire from which his mother came. His efforts to expand his rule stretch over Acts 2 and 3, and during that time comes the momentous, and for that era, frightening turn of the century.

“It was the Dark Ages,” says Carpenter. “People were so scared of what might happen on the stroke of midnight they died of fright right there on the streets.”

That palpable sense of terror will be portrayed in the play, and Carpenter hints the Act 2 climax will be well the wait.

Howard Carpenter’s wife and co-author Mony is responsible for giving the play its more human level.

“She picked up on a peasant couple who were only minor players in the first draft and turned them into much larger roles,” says Carpenter.

The peasant couple balances the story of emperors and popes, lords and ladies by showing how the events created by the powerful impact the lives of everyday people. (If you want to draw present-day analogies, feel free to do so.)

“Their story is really the heart of the play,” says Carpenter.

Age of Wolves will feature 21 actors playing multiple roles over the play’s 20-year time span. It’s the largest cast BCTC has ever used – and Carpenter stresses that the play is a true ensemble effort. Carpenter will direct the play, and Will Trakas will stage manage the mammoth production.

Although Carpenter says the play is bound to interest history lovers (and medieval re-enactors, some of whom are loaning costumes for the play), he says it packs enough power to cross all age, gender and demographic lines. There is truly something for everyone in this pageant of events.

Still, there is an element of risk in producing a three-hour history play in a town that doesn’t typically place theater high on its list for entertainment dollars.

“We’re a small troupe that takes chances other troupes won’t take,” says Carpenter. “That’s why we’re the eclectic theater company.”

Risk or not, Age of Wolves still offers an opportunity that comes only rarely to Columbus theater-goers – a chance to see a full-blown pageant, with all the drama, color and excitement of one of Shakespeare’s history plays.

Don’t miss it. It may be another millennium before you’ll have another chance to catch a production this ambitious.

Also onstage in March…

Fasten your seat belt for a MadLab ride or the ride of a lifetime, head over to MadLab Theatre, 105 N. Grant Ave., for the company’s newest production, Existentialism: The Ride, by Ronald X. Pesh and David D. Dvorscak. The show will run from March 3 to March 26, and all shows begin at 8 p.m.

Those familiar with the MadLab troupe know that a representative or two usually makes it to the New York International Fringe Festival for a look around. This year, four MadLabbers, including artistic director Greg McGill, visited the fringe in August, specifically for the purpose of bringing back a fringe show to Columbus.

Existentialism: The Ride jumped out at me the first time I even saw the title,” says McGill. “Going into the festival it was, by far, the show I anticipated the most.”

Ironically, it was also the show they seemed destined not to see.

“When we first inquired about tickets, we were told that (the play) was already sold out.” McGill says.

Nevertheless, McGill and another MadLab member showed up anyway, hoping they could be squeezed into the theater somehow.

“Luckily for us, the pouring rain kept a few people away, and we were able to catch the show. It did not disappoint,” says McGill.

ETR, as McGill describes it, is a high-paced, intellectual comedy that slips easily into satire. The 75-minute show focuses on a corporation that introduces a new, rather tasteless theme-park ride based on Nazi concentration camps. The dramatic question quickly becomes, “Can the existentialist ‘Man in Pit’ stop the massive corporation McDisMart?” Andy Batt will direct MadLab regulars.

Since David O. Russell’s film about two existential detectives, I (Heart) Huckabees, came out earlier this year – MadLab’s choice from the fringe festival seems timely and appropriate. Why not go, stretch your mind, and have a few laughs?

For more information about Existentialism: The Ride or to reserve tickets, contact MadLab Theatre at (614) 470-2333 – or visit its Web site, www.madlab.net

CATCO spotlights Billie Holiday

Mary McClendon as Billie Holiday in CATCO's production of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.
Photo / Dave Alkire

Billie Holiday. Smooth jazz. The two are inseparable – but that wasn’t always the case.

In a year when the Oscar races were flush with biopics – Ray, and The Aviator to name two – CATCO is serving up a little biography of its own with its production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill by Lanie Robertson. The play will run March 4 to March 27 in Studio One at the Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street.

Lady Day mixes theater, biography and cabaret to depict the life of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday and music will be as much a part of the show as it was Holiday’s life. Among the dozen songs you’ll hear are: “God Bless the Child,” “Strange Fruit,” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do.”

“Lady Day is a rare combination of jazz singing and theater,” says CATCO Artistic Director Geoffrey Nelson. “It tells the compelling story of one of America’s most famous singers and her battles with racism and addiction.”

If you love jazz and/or Billie Holiday, then this show really is a must for you. If you’ve never heard of Billie Holiday, here’s your chance to learn more about a woman who has become an American icon.

Mary McClendon will play Billie Holiday. McClendon is a Columbus jazz vocalist who has opened for the late Sarah Vaughn and Harry “Sweets” Edison and has worked with such jazz notables as Bobby Floyd, the late Hank Marr, Joe Dunlap and Mark Flugge. She has performed with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and continues to perform at such venues as Spagio’s and the Worthington Inn.

Mylo Simmons will also perform in Lady Day. A Jazz Studies major from OSU and Capital University, Simmons has served as music teacher for the W.C. Cupe Community School and has been band director at the W.C. Handy School of the Performing Arts.

For more information about the show, or tickets, contact (614) 469-0939 or visit CATCO’s Web site, www.catco.org

Got the blues? Love public radio? 2Co’s for you

Gray Columbus skies, lingering Christmas bills, income taxes due – hey, who doesn’t have a bit of the blues this time of year?

You have two choices: You can sit there and wallow in them, or you can take yourself over to 2Co’s Cabaret’s latest production, 2Co’s Got the Blues, which continues through March 19 at its theater, 790 N. High Street.

The show’s collection of monologues, one-acts, and music chases the blues with a direct look at what it is that contributes to our low-down feelings and general malaise. After all, the best way to defeat an enemy is to confront it head-on. And if that argument doesn’t sell you, don’t forget that misery loves company, and there will be plenty of that at 2Co’s.

In fact, today’s economic downturn has caused NPR affiliate WCBE to team up with 2Co’s as one of the Blues newest sponsors.

“We’re hurting bad right now,” says WCBE operations manager Dan Mushalko. “Four of our programs are at risk of being taken off the air at the end of March if we do not raise the appropriate funds.”

As a result, 2Co’s is donating $1 from every ticket sold to 2Co’s Got the Blues to WCBE.

If you love public radio…if you got the blues…or you just like to have a good time, this is your opportunity to support two arts organizations with one appearance – by you, of course.

For more information, visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com Or call (614) 437-2267.

They have Time, but no place

Columbus’s (and America’s) hot, hip theater troupe, Blueforms Theatre Group, has cancelled the March 18 performance of its newest original work, Time and a Few Words because of lack of a performance space. The group plans to re-stage its original work, A/The PostModernLoveStory (a huge hit in its original incarnation) in May. Blueforms founder and artistic director Matt Slaybaugh says the group is focusing all of its current resources on finding a location to perform its Love Story re-staging. If you can help Blueforms out, give Slaybaugh a call at (614) 975-3764, or drop him an e-mail at blueforms@yahoo.com

Pat the bunny…

If you’ve never read Margery Williams’ heartwarming children’s classic, The Velveteen Rabbit, then your childhood was a bit deprived.

But not to worry! Columbus Children’s Theatre will present the story of the loveable toy rabbit who tries to become real from March 17 through April 3 at its Short North theater, 512 Park Street.

The Columbus Children’s production is a musical and is recommended for ages four and up. If you’ve never read the classic story, you owe it to yourself to take your child (or borrow one for the occasion) and go. No one should ever have grown up without having been exposed to The Velveteen Rabbit’s timeless message of love.

For more information, or for tickets, contact (614) 224-6672 or visit Columbus Children’s Theatre online at www.colschildrenstheatre.org

Coming in April 2005

Check next month’s “In the Wings” column for more information on the following shows, all scheduled to begin in April:
Orchidelirium, April 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, Women at Play
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), April 15-May 8, CATCO
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, April 29, 30, May 1, 6, and 7, Center Stage Players.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, April 14 - May 1, Columbus Children’s Theatre.

FEBRUARY 2005

During the Renaissance, popes and princes, merchants and even middle-class individuals supported the arts through a system of financial patronage. The system worked wonders for the careers of a number of itinerant painters. Maybe you’ve heard of them – Leonardo daVinci, Michelangelo, Raphael. The list goes on.

Why am I telling you this? Because the arts in general, and theater arts in particular, are struggling to survive in Columbus. Every month, theater companies across town are providing the kind of quality entertainment you'd find in cities like New York and Chicago – but they have to pinch pennies and stretch dollars to do so.

This shouldn't be happening.

Columbus has an educated, increasingly affluent population that's rightfully proud of the city's new, cosmopolitan feel. But if the only theater we’re offered in the future are high-school productions and the occasional community theater piece, we’ll not only move back to our cowtown roots, but drop light years behind Ohio’s other major cities. The Cincinnati Playhouse, for example, recently received a Tony award for best regional theater company, and the Cleveland Playhouse continues to be one of the oldest operating theater companies in the United States. You can bet those cities’ citizens support their arts.

So, why not take a page from the Renaissance and become a patron of the arts – specifically the theater arts? Choose one of the theater companies listed below and become their patron. Attend their performances. Buy subscriptions. Become supporting members if that opportunity presents itself.

Even if you can’t find time to go to performances, you can still support “your” company through occasional donations. We’re not talking mega-bucks here (though, sure, that would be appreciated). The truth is, however, any five, ten or more dollars you can send on occasion will help these groups continue to provide the kind of quality shows we’ve come to expect in Columbus.

For a moment, then, pretend you’re a member of the Medici family – prominent patrons of the arts during the Italian Renaissance. Choose your company, take out your checkbook and write a check for whatever amount you can afford. Then find your calendar and make plans to attend “your company’s” next performance. After all, if you’re going to support the artists, you might as well enjoy the art.


Here are local theater companies that would appreciate your support:

Actors Theatre Company
1000 City Park Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43206
(614) 444-6888.
www.theactorstheatre.org
Gives free performances in Schiller Park each summer. The company has support categories, ranging from Cameo ($25) to Angels (over $1,000), but any amount would be welcomed. A printable form is included on their Web site.

BlueForms Theatre Group
PO Box 10630
Columbus, Ohio 43201
(614) 975-3764
www.blueforms.info
Recently named one of American Theatre magazine’s hot new troupes. Currently raising funds for its 2005 work, and developing a “Groupie” membership plan. Payments can be mailed, or paid online through PayPal.

Bread and Circus Theatre
1066 N. High Street
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 470-4895
www.bcto.org
Bread and Circus performs out of the Short Stop Youth Center, 1066 N. High Street, and is known best for staging classic theater and family productions. They are seeking corporate sponsors as well as individual donors, and, like most companies, offer space in their programs for advertising. Corporate sponsors can call (614) 542-0942 or (614) 570-0385 and ask for Howard or Mony respectively. Individual “patrons” can send contributions to: 583 E. Columbus St. Columbus, Ohio 43206-2301

CATCO
77 S. High Street, Second Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 461-1382, Ext. 152
www.catco.org
The Contemporary American Theatre Company is the only professional theater company operating in Columbus. A printable donation form is available on the company’s Web site.

Center Stage Players
775 N. High Street
Columbus, Ohio State University
www.centerstageplayers.com
Another company operating in the Short North - from the Axis Nightclub on High Street. Performs primarily comedies and musicals. Donations can be made online, through PayPal.

Columbus Children’s Theatre
512 Park Street
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 224-6672
www.colschildrenstheatre.org
One of three theater companies operating in the Short North. CCT is a semi-professional theater company that presents family entertainment, and offers a variety of classes for children. Memberships in the company’s “Royal Family” are available – and range from Knights & Ladies in Waiting ($50+) up to Kings & Queens ($500+). Call (614) 224-6673 for more information.

Eye Stop Productions
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 299-7667
eyestop.org

Eye Stop is an innovative theater company that started at the old Short North Playhouse and still performs in the Short North on occasion. It’s known for presenting newer, cutting-edge plays, and its onstage and backstage talent includes theater professionals and non-professionals alike. Call (614) 299-7667 for more information, or e-mail: info@eyestop.org

MadLab Theatre
105 N. Grant Ave.
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 470-2333
www.madlab.net
This avant-garde company will present the city’s first Fringe Festival, beginning in May. Donors may become members, eligible to receive discounts, invitations to “members-only” events and a “super cool MadLab t-shirt.” Memberships are $35. Larger donations also appreciated.

Red Herring Theatre Ensemble
77 South High Street, Second Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 469-0939
www.redherring.org
A semi-professional company that presents “theater out of the mainstream.” Performs in Studio Two in the Vern
Riffe Center downtown. Offers donor
categories.

2Co’s Cabaret
790 N. High St.
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 437-2267
www.shadowboxcabaret.com/2cos/2cos_home.html

One of the Short North’s own theater companies. Presents revue-style entertainment and music. Offshoot of the popular Shadowbox Cabaret, which is located at Easton. Donors contribute through one of the company’s three fund-raising functions: a nightly raffle, the Fall Fireball Fundraiser, and a Spring Patron Talent Show (scheduled this year on May 1.) Call 2Co’s for more information.

Women at Play
2990 Shadywood Rd.
Columbus, Ohio 43227
(614) 457-6580
www.womenatplaysite.com

Presents plays, often at site-specific locations, that explore women’s perspectives and relationships. Donations given now will be used toward their April production. Make your check payable to Women at Play, and send to 2990 Shadywood Rd., Columbus, OH 43221.

Relief concert

And while we’re discussing the arts… kudos to those arts organizations in town – including CATCO and Phoenix Theatre for Children – for the concert they presented January 18 in the Ohio Theatre. All proceeds went to the Tsunami relief fund.

Onstage in February

CATCO’s Exonerated staged through 2/13
Despite what you read here last month, the Contemporary American Theatre Company has always intended to run performances of The Exonerated through February 13 at its performance space (Studio One) in the Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. It was our mistake that listed it only through February 3. If you haven’t caught the play yet, which has been running since January 21, you owe it to yourself to see it. The play offers a chilling account, presented documentary-style, of innocent citizens trapped by an imperfect justice system – sentenced to prison, and even to death for alleged crimes. No matter which side of the death penalty you happen to sit on, The Exonerated will make you ask, “Could this happen to me?” You may not like the answer. CATCO’s production is first-class, with a cast that can deliver the emotional power behind the stories with little need for costumes, set or props. This is truly one theatrical experience you don’t want to miss while it’s here. For tickets or for more information, visit CATCO’s Web site, www.catco.org, or call (614) 469-0930.

    (Caitlin) Pandora Carey  (Nick) Aaron Deuschle
   
 


Senior Rep offers Over the River

While the Short North Gazette tries to limit its theater listings to performances occurring in the Short North and downtown areas only, the Senior Repertory of Ohio (SRO) Theatre Company has a good reason to be included in this month’s listing – it turns 20 years old this year! Congratulations are in order for the hard-working group that is currently performing Joe Pietro’s comedy Over the River and Through the Woods at the Roth/Resler Theatre, Jewish Community Center, 1125 College Ave., in Bexley. The play centers around an Italian-American immigrant family dealing with the imminent departure of their 29-year old grandson Nick. Nick has been offered his dream job in Seattle – a world away from his family’s New Jersey home – so the grandparents (both sets) conspire to keep Nick right where he is.

Over the River played off-Broadway, around the corner from Pietro’s better-known musical revue, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Pam Hill directs the SRO production, and cast members include Pandora Cary, Aaron Deuschle, Karen Clark-Carpenter, Ron Nocks, Charles Sloin and Beverly Petit. The Short North Gazette’s Kaizaad Kotwal serves as costume designer.

The play runs February 24 through March 6, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. There are 2 p.m. matinee performances on Feb. 27 and March 6, and 10:30 a.m. performances Feb. 25 and March 3. For more information or to order tickets, call (614) 258-8495 or visit the company’s Web site, www.glt.org (The group began as Grandparents Living Theatre.)

Eyestop’s new Battery
Eyestop Productions will offer Daniel Therriault’s jolting love story Battery, on Feb. 10-12 and Feb. 17-19 at 8 p.m. at the Studio 16 art gallery, 431 W. Third Avenue in the Short North area. Battery focuses on the relationship between the domineering owner of an electrical repair shop and his manic-depressive assistant. The owner administers his own homemade shock treatments to the assistant – and, amazingly, the treatments work. But suddenly, the “recovered” assistant begins to long for his own independence – and he encourages the shop owner’s battered girlfriend to do the same. Eric McKeever and Jillian Burgos co-direct Mike Holmes, Anthony Peeples and Vicki Andronias in Eyestop’s first production of 2005. For tickets, or for more information, call Eyestop at (614) 299-7667.

Center Stage Players get a “Clue”
It’s hard to think of a board game taking on three dimensions – but Clue, the popular Parker Brothers game has not only found life as a movie (starring Rocky Horror star Tim Curry), but has now jumped into the realm of theatrical musicals. The Short North’s own Center Stage Players will perform Clue the Musical February 25 through February 27 at the Axis Nightclub, 775 N. High Street. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., the play begins at 8 p.m. The play begins as the game does – by drawing the cards that will determine the who, what, and where of the murder (i.e. Miss Scarlet-in-the-study-with-a-knife.) When the murderous combination is revealed, you can expect to find the culprit singing out his or her confession – literally. There’s a final surprise, however, you won’t expect. Tickets can be purchased online at www.centerstageplayers.com, or by calling (614) 306-0447. Tickets cost $12.50 per seat.

Love still hurts at MadLab Theatre
If Valentine’s Day strikes you as something for fools only, then head over to MadLab Theatre, 105 N. Grant Ave., to have those sentiments played out before you. MadLab presents one of its Full Frontal Nudity productions – Love Hurts, a look at all the scars inflicted by arguably one of humankind’s dearest and most necessary emotions. Love Hurts continues through February 19, 2005, Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Whether you’re one of the fools in love, or one of the been-there-done-that variety who prefers to watch from the sidelines for a while, MadLab’s Love Hurts is bound to make your Valentine’s Day one to remember. For tickets or more information, visit the company’s Web site, www.madlab.net or call (614) 470-2333.

The “Hairy Man” haunts CCT
As adults, we face demons of our own making. When we’re young – there’s the boogeyman. Columbus Children’s Theatre recognizes that legendary childhood demon with its production of Wiley and the Hairy Man, which will be performed February 10 through February 27 at its Short North theater, 512 N. Park Street. The play focuses on young Wiley, his mother, his faithful hound dog, and, of course, the Hairy Man who haunts Wiley’s days and dreams. How Wiley banishes the boogeyman from his life is a lesson all of us can learn from. Visit www.colschildrenstheatre.org for show times, prices and more information. Or call (614) 224-6672.

2Co’s “Blues”
February is another of Columbus’ cold, dark months. That’s the bad news. What’s the good news? Well…it’s a short month… and 2Co’s Cabaret continues its poignant (and steamy) production of 2Co’s Got the Blues, performed through March 19 at its theater, 790 N. High Street. The collection of monologues, one-acts, and music chases the blues with a direct look at what it is that contributes to our low-down feelings and general malaise. (Other than the weather outside, that is.) “It’s a production that reminds us why the darker times are so vital,” says Steve Guyer, 2Co’s Executive Producer. “It’s our ‘low times,’” he reminds us, “that present the true tests of our character.” For more information, visit www.shadowboxcabaret.com and click on 2Co’s. Or call (614) 437-2267.

Coming in March 2005

Check next month’s “In the Wings” column for more information on the following shows, all scheduled to begin in March:
Existentialism: The Ride. March 3-26, MadLab Theatre
Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, March 4-27, Contemporary American Theatre Company.
Age of Wolves. March 11-26, Bread and Circus Theatre. WORLD PREMIERE.
Time and a Few Words. Opening March 18, BlueForms Theatre Group
The Velveteen Rabbit, March 17-April 3, Columbus Children’s Theatre.



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