Our ‘Superstar’ venue: what to expect

West Side UCC is on the same side of Bridge Avenue as our former home, the St. Patrick's Club Building. Photo by Hans Holznagel

West Side United Church of Christ viewed from Bridge Avenue, with our old St. Pat’s home in the background. Photos by Hans Holznagel

Our Nov. 21–Dec. 7 performances of Jesus Christ Superstar are at West Side United Church of Christ, West 38th Street and Bridge Avenue, Cleveland, across from our longtime home, the St. Patrick’s Club Building. While the church is familiar to some of us – its basement has hosted our children’s programs and many benefit rehearsals – this is our first time upstairs, in the sanctuary. Here are some tips about what to expect.

  • Free parking is available in the St. Pat’s lot at West 38th Street and Bridge Avenue and on neighboring streets. Nearby spaces will fill up rapidly, though, so allow yourself time to find a parking space and walk.
  •  Come in at the church’s Bridge Avenue entrance. There you’ll be welcomed at our ticket table. If you bought tickets in advance, simply give your name there and your tickets will be waiting. Any unsold tickets will also be sold there at the door. Cash, check, VISA and MasterCard are accepted.

    Look for this banner at the corner of West 38th and Bridge. That parking lot in the background is available, but expect it to fill up fast.

    There’s a “Superstar” banner on the corner of the West Side UCC building at West 38th and Bridge. The parking lot in the background, across West 38th, is available, but expect it to fill up fast.

  • Seating is in wooden church pews. If you have a reserved Star Seat, you will find a specific pew marked with the name of your party. All other seating is general admission. Please work with our ushers to make room for everyone!
  • The site is accessible to wheelchair users and people with mobility difficulties. Patrons needing to use the chair lift leading to the sanctuary should mention it when entering. Our house management staff will assist you.
  • Food and drink will be limited. We’re grateful to the people of West Side UCC for hosting us and we support them in preserving the beauty of their historic worship space. That’s why we’re offering only bottled water at our concession stand before the show and at intermission – and why we ask you not to bring other food or beverages into the space. We’ll all miss the wonderful baked goods that have been offered at our concession stand for decades. They’ll be back next year!

Tickets are available in advance online; or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; or by coming to our business office, 6516 Detroit Ave., Suite 9, during those hours.

– Hans Holznagel

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.

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Near West Theatre’s community theater production of

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Lyrics by Tim Rice       Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber


A transitional word from Hans

Alumnus Maurice Salmon (left), Hans Holznagel and supporter extraordinaire Char Fowler in NWT's current awareness campaign. Photo by Victor Gozion

Alumnus Maurice Salmon (left), myself and supporter extraordinaire Char Fowler in NWT’s current awareness campaign. Photo by Victor Gozion

As one of Near West Theatre’s staff leaders and editor of the The Near West Circle e-newsletter and blog, I want you, Dear Reader, to know of a change ahead for me. At the end of December I will be leaving the staff and moving into a contract-consultant role with Near West.

Here’s my Near West story. My wife, Kathy Harlow, and I moved to Cleveland from New York City in 1990 and it wasn’t long till she discovered, within stroller-pushing distance, this fun, urban community theater. In 1998, our son, Clifton, was the first to be in a show. The rest of us followed in every way possible – onstage, backstage and front-of-house – right up through daughter Alyssa’s performance in the cast of Move On! earlier this year.

A selfie of my foot at the perch above Detroit Avenue and West 67th Street, where I've taken construction pictures for the past year.

A March 2014 selfie of my foot at the perch above Detroit Avenue and West 67th Street, where I’ve taken construction pictures for the past year.

Back in 2011, I gladly accepted the newly created position of Chief Operating Officer. Aided in part by funding from The Cleveland Foundation, its purpose was to lend administrative support to Stephanie in these transitional years, with special attention to the move to our new home at Gordon Square. I’ve never worked harder nor at such a wide and challenging range of tasks. We’ve raised some dollars, communicated extensively, connected with the NWT family and the wider community in new ways, seen the construction project through to the brink of completion, and brought some eager and gifted newcomers on board. As with any good role, the stretch has done me good.

As we move into 2015, I’ll lend a hand with the theater’s communication work and certain transitional tasks as the building is finished and occupied. Otherwise, I’ll catch my breath and freelance a bit while I discern my next vocational steps, looking for places, where, as Fredrick Buechner has famously described it, “your great gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.” Near West Theatre has been, and will continue to be, one such place for me. See you there! Thank you, Stephanie, for the opportunity, and thank you, friends and colleagues, for this rich, three-year journey. — Hans Holznagel

Hans Holznagel "journeying on" as Tateh, with Alana Jarrell as Little Girl, in Ragtime, May 2012.

“Journeying on” as Tateh, with Alana Jarrell as Little Girl, in Ragtime, May 2012. Photo by Terry Schordock

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.


‘Superstar’ and age appropriateness

JCSshowimagelargeWe at Near West Theatre have cautioned that Jesus Christ Superstar contains intense scenes that may be disturbing to young children. Here is more information for those deciding whether their young people should be in the audience.

The show focuses on Jesus of Nazareth and the crowds and characters who surround him in the last seven days of his life. In Christian scriptures and in this rock opera, violence is part of the story: not only mocking, ridicule and verbal abuse, but also arrest, physical beating and ultimately execution and death. Near West Theatre’s version of Jesus Christ Superstar portrays this violence without visible blood or gore, but nonetheless just as fully and passionately as all other moods and aspects of the story. Like all parts of the show, the violent ones are supported and intensified by lighting, sound, video and other special effects (including a loud and realistic gunshot) and an energetic rock score played by a live, amplified band.

It is not a story without hope. Love, support, beauty and deep humanity are all part of Jesus Christ Superstar as well. Children as young as 7 years old are part of our cast, but we have spent significant time over a two-month period of community-building and rehearsals helping them understand the story and the reasons for what they are portraying. Is the show appropriate for your children? We leave that decision to you, the adults in their lives. For those wishing to do internet research, we recommend topics such as the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and power and execution in the Roman Empire.

Tickets are $20 for a reserved Star Seat that helps support the theater’s art and mission, $10 for adult general admission, and $8 for children’s general admission (ages 12 and under). They are available online anytime; by phone at 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; or by coming to our business office, 6516 Detroit Ave., Suite 9, during those hours. Any tickets not sold in advance are available at the performance site, West Side United Church of Christ, 3800 Bridge Ave., starting one hour before each performance. – Hans Holznagel

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.

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Near West Theatre’s community theater production of

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Lyrics by Tim Rice       Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber


‘Superstar’ starts transforming church space

Cast members give Director Bob Navis Jr. (standing in background) a little chaos. Photos by Hans Holznagel

Cast members show Director Bob Navis Jr. (standing, background) a little chaos. Photos by Hans Holznagel

Director Bob Navis Jr. called out from the pews of West Side United Church of Christ to the actors poised in every part of the sanctuary that was doubling as a theater wing. “This time I want you to find reasons inside yourself to make the stakes higher,” he told them as they prepared to improvise a high-energy crowd scene again. “This is not a quiet, private journey. That’s not what this scene is about and that’s not what the music is saying. I want to see chaos.” Musical Director Ian LeRoy hit the rehearsal piano and on they came, kids, teens and adults, groups at a time, encountering each other in aisles, on steps and atop platforms. Noise and action reigned. On Wednesday evening, Oct. 1, just two weeks into rehearsals, this grand sanctuary was well on its way to becoming the stage for Jesus Christ Superstar.

Musical Director Ian LeRoy (left) and Director Bob Navis Jr. (lower center) work with actors already using the first of temporary platforms.

Musical Director Ian LeRoy (left) and Director Bob Navis Jr. (lower center) work with actors — some already up on the first of temporary platforms.

Having spent initial rehearsals focusing on music, movement and ensemble-building exercises, and with principal roles now cast (see updated list below), actors are beginning to use just about every inch of this tall, arching sanctuary built by German Protestants in 1866. Temporary platforms and step units will help the cast fill that vertical space, adding visibility and dramatic effect. The show runs for nine performances, Nov. 21 through Dec. 7 at the church, 3800 Bridge Ave. (at West 38th St.), Cleveland. Tickets — $20 reserved Star Seats, $10 adult general admission and $8 general admission for 12 and under — are available online anytime or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Dec. 4 performance will be interpreted by the American Sign Language troupe, The HeArd. -- Hans Holznagel

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[UPDATE, Oct. 10: Five more men, veterans of NWT shows, are needed to complete the cast. Interested? Call Director Bob Navis Jr. at 216-281-6879, or Assistant Director Kelcie Dugger at 216-961-9750.]

Near West Theatre’s community theater production of

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Lyrics by Tim Rice       Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Cast: Felix Albino, Edie Barcelona, Angie Bendahan, Raymond Boyd, Jeffrey E. Braun (King Herod), Sara Danielle Chapman (Simon Zealotes), Bridget Chebo (Mary Magdalene), Roger Connors, Kevin Conroy (Caiaphas), Carlos Cruz (Jesus of Nazareth), Sharron DeCosta (Maid by the Fire), Lauren Dockery (Annas), Angela Galarza (Old Man), Venchise Glenn, Lindsay Hajostek, Hannah Horton, Hillary Horton, Corinne Howery, Sophie Hull, Angellise Irizarry, Rachel Johanek, Louis Johnson II, Kevin Joseph Kelly (Pontius Pilate), Meg Kilbane, Bryen Kilbane, Sabrina Kim, Mike Knobloch, Jonas Kukelhan, Christine Larson, Elliot Lockshine, Roger Lowe (Roman Soldier), Amaya Moore, George Morgan (Judas Iscariot), Finn O’Malia, Jocelyn Perkins, Aaron Phillips (Peter), Mary Prucha, Eric Ritter, Daniel Ross, Lillian Ross, Jennifer Ryan (Priest), Brandon Schumacker, Cole Tarantowski, Nora van Lier, Piet van Lier, Kyanie Vazquez, Connie Wynn, Lawrence Young (Priest), Bob Zombar (Priest).

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing operating support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.


‘Superstar’ cast announced, volunteers sought

JCS publicity imageA record number of children, teens and adults – 118 of them,  including 68 newcomers! – turned out this month to audition for Near West Theatre’s fall 2014 production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Director Bob Navis Jr. broke the casting news to all of them by e-mail on Friday, Sept. 12. A postal letter was also mailed the previous day. Principal roles will be assigned after further callback auditions are held between now and the start of community-building activities and rehearsals on Sept. 21. The entire ensemble is listed below.

Picking an intergenerational cast of 58 people is a delight, but also bittersweet when 60 more hopeful people have to be told no. “We’re grateful to the actors of all ages who brought such energy and vulnerability to the auditions,” Navis said. “Several went out of their way to tell us the audition itself was a great experience, and we’re always delighted to hear that. Even a single night of auditions should be a way of carrying out our mission. The turnout was one more sign of vitality as we look ahead to the future in our new theater.”

“Thank you, NWT, for affecting change in me in just one night,” wrote one adult who auditioned. “I haven’t felt this ‘OK-to-be-all-me’ in a really long time. Even if tonight’s audition is as far as my JCS journey goes, it was just like Bob Navis said he hoped it would be for us all: a special, stand-alone experience.”

“Well, I didn’t chicken out last night,” wrote another. “I went to a very different audition where, for two-and-a-half hours, I had no idea what was going to be thrown at me next. At one point, Kelcie Dugger, the assistant director, said to me, ‘That was so great! I forgot your voice could do that!’ That meant the world to this middle-aged ‘teen’ who is still trying to bust out of his shell.”

Navis is particularly pleased with the balance of ages, genders and neighborhoods that were represented at auditions for the rock opera, to be staged at West Side UCC this November and December. The Superstar cast members, diverse in racial identity, range in age from 7 to 57. Just under two-thirds of them live in the City of Cleveland; the rest are from surrounding communities, mostly inner-ring suburbs. There are 16 girls and 12 boys, ages 17 and under; and 15 men and 15 women, ages 18 and over.

Now Near West has backstage and front-of-house Superstar roles to fill. Click here to learn more and volunteer. Also, tickets are now on sale for performances, Nov. 21—Dec. 7, at 216-961-6391 (weekdays, 11 to 4) or online anytime, here. – Hans Holznagel

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Near West Theatre’s community theater production of

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Lyrics by Tim Rice       Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Cast: Felix Albino, Edie Barcelona, Angie Bendahan, Raymond Boyd, Jeffrey E. Braun, Sara Danielle Chapman, Bridget Chebo, Kevin Conroy, Carlos Cruz, Sharron DeCosta, Lauren Dockery, Cole Emerine, Angela Galarza, Venchise Glenn, Lindsay Hajostek, Chris Holovacs, Hannah Horton, Hillary Horton, Corinne Howery, Sophie Hull, Angellise Irizarry, Rachel Johanek, Louis Johnson II, Kevin Joseph Kelly, Meg Kilbane, Bryen Kilbane, Sabrina Kim, Alice King, Jason Knauer, Mike Knobloch, Jonas Kukelhan, Christine Larson, Elliot Lockshine, Shannon McPeek-Korth, Amaya Moore, George Morgan, Finn O’Malia, Dante Palmer, Jocelyn Perkins, Aaron Phillips, Jesse Phillips, Mary Prucha, Eric Ritter, Daniel Ross, Lillian Ross, Nathan Rutz, Jennifer Ryan, Brandon Schumacker, Tonya Smith, Darius Stubbs, Cole Tarantowski, Ava Trevino, Nora van Lier, Kyanie Vazquez, Colin Wheeler, Connie Wynn, Lawrence Young, Bob Zombar.

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing operating support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.


Come to our Annual Meeting, Thu., Sept. 18

groundbreakinglogoUpdates on our new theater and our coming season of shows will be featured at Near West Theatre’s Annual Meeting this Thursday, Sept. 18, at 5:30 p.m. in the Atrium of the Gordon Square Arcade Building, 6516 Detroit Ave. We’ll also honor our 2013-2014 volunteers and show some brief snippets from among hours of footage collected by filmmaker Ted Sikora about the art, mission, process and spirit of Near West Theatre. A business meeting of the Board of Trustees will follow. All are welcome! Free parking is available in several Gordon Square Arts District lots and in the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church lot, 6928 Detroit Ave.

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares, and for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences.

The Near West Theatre construction site in the Gordon Square Arts District, viewed frmo the southeast on Sept. 12, 2014. Photo by Hans Holznagel

The Near West Theatre construction site in the Gordon Square Arts District, viewed from the southeast on Sept. 12, 2014. Photo by Hans Holznagel


The art of theater construction

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Mineral-wood insulation (right), soon to be encased in plywood (left). Photos by Hans Holznagel

A late-summer afternoon at our construction site in the Gordon Square Arts District brought to mind the art of theater and the art of building. Process and detail matter. Light matters. Point of view matters. Good results rely on design, framework, inner work and ensemble. A lot goes on behind the scenes that the audience never sees. And so on. Pick an anaology.

Poignantly, as with rehearsals and performances, the beauty and interest you find on the construction site one day won’t be quite the same the next. Audiences in our building next year will enjoy wonderful things, but the cast of construction professionals and a handful of others are the only ones who get to be in the presence of the struggles and beauty of these days of preparation. Here, then, captured on Sept. 4, are a few still-life views of this work in progress. For frequent photo updates of a more standard variety, click “like” at the Near West Theatre Facebook page– Hans Holznagel

Especially long screws connect wood batten to "dense board" sheathing that has been coated with a "fluid-applied air barrier."

Especially long screws connect wood batten to gypsum-board sheathing that has been coated with a “fluid-applied air barrier.”

Future elevator shaft.

Future elevator shaft.

A framed-in control booth in the balcony, looking toward the house and stage below.

A framed-in control booth in the balcony, looking toward the house and stage below.

An initial piece of insulation occupies a niche in the metal-framed part of the south wall, outside the elevator shaft.

An initial piece of insulation occupies a niche in the metal-framed part of the south wall, outside the elevator shaft.

The south wall, awaiting further layers, catches the afternoon sun.

The south wall, awaiting further layers, catches the afternoon sun.

Green is beautiful.

Green is beautiful.

Gypsum is gold.

Gypsum is gold.

Overview from the southeast.

Overview from the southeast.


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