‘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.


In the spotlight: NWT actor Carlos Cruz

Carlos Cruz

Carlos Cruz

When a friend asked him to tag along to auditions 2003, Carlos Cruz did – and unexpectedly wound up with the lead role in Near West Theatre’s summer youth production of Jesus Christ Superstar. A second-generation Puerto Rican, Carlos was born here but split his childhood between Cleveland and Puerto Rico. He graduated from Lincoln West High School, having attended there only during his senior year. Since his NWT debut, Carlos has been involved in theater here and as far away as New York City. In early 2014, he moved back to Cleveland and participated in Move On! Now he’s planning to audition for Superstar for a second time.

Q: How did you first get involved with Near West Theatre?

A: I was raised Pentecostal and always loved the music in church, but when I was no longer allowed to actively participate, I found myself searching for a new place to make music. During my senior year of high school I was involved with a production of The Wiz, and a friend from the show asked me to come audition with him at NWT for moral support. I said “OK, but I’m not doing the show.” When I walked in, I thought, “Oh, no – I am walking right back out of here.” In that particular audition group, I saw predominantly people who were not of color, so that intimidated me. I auditioned anyway. In my wildest dreams, I never thought my first role would be Jesus Christ in Jesus Christ Superstar, but Bob took a chance on me. I went in there blind, and it turned out to be one of the most life-changing experiences.

Carlos Cruz in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2003.

Carlos Cruz in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2003.

Q: Wow, you played Jesus your first time out? What was that like?

A: It was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life. It pushed me to extreme limits. The cast was just the most amazing cast that I ever could have worked with. The experience was gut-wrenching, emotional, just really inspirational. It was awesome – challenging as hell – for me as an individual who comes from a very worship-and-gospel background. To be confronted with some of these things in an in-your-face, doesn’t-let-down rock opera was just overwhelming and daunting. When I was told that I was going to be Jesus we were already well into the rehearsal process. My immediate reaction was, “No, you have the wrong one, choose someone with more experience.” But Bob saw something in me. The experience brought the best out of me, and it was a success because of what we all did.

Q: Are you auditioning for this year’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar?

A: Yes, I’m auditioning for it, but not expecting too much. For me, this is just coming full circle. A lot has happened since I first auditioned. My last NWT performance before Move On! was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2004. I left to do theater in other places; I studied vocal performance at Cleveland State University, went to New York City, and moved back to Puerto Rico for a while. There were always people from Near West who reached out.

Q: What do you have to say to others who might be considering auditioning for Jesus Christ Superstar?

A: Go audition! If there’s one show you want to experience, it’s Jesus Christ Superstar, especially at Near West Theatre. Actors have fewer limitations because Near West is open-minded in their casting. Near West is creativity, and I love it. They are going to do amazing things with this show. The fact that it will be performed in the sanctuary of a church is very exciting.

Q: You came back for Move On! What was it like saying goodbye to St. Patrick’s?

A: When I heard about Move On!, I had to come back. I owe NWT a debt of gratitude for everything they’ve done to push me along in the arts. It was a wonderful opportunity to come back and see everyone that I’d been missing, and to meet all these people who I should have crossed paths with, but for some reason I never had. It was a mixture of making new friends, revisiting old ones and getting back into the game as well. I feel blessed that I got to do that.

It was very bittersweet; that’s the word that continually keeps coming to mind. You never know how attached you are to a place until you walk back in and all these memories flood your mind. First kisses – I had my first kiss there; I fell in love for the first time there. I also had some falling-outs and some intense dramatic experiences. It was sweet in that I could give back to NWT a little of what it gave me and better in that some memories that came back were overwhelming, but Move On! was insanely amazing. To learn that many songs in that short a time, and the amount of people on stage – well, that was just the magic of NWT.

– Julie Cajigas

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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.


Construction update: Video and pictures

A coating called "fluid applied air barrier" is being sprayed on this week over golden "dense board." They're they'll be followed by more layers of insulation before metal siding goes on. Photos by Hans Holznagel

A coating called “fluid applied air barrier” is being sprayed this week onto gold-colored “dense board.” They’ll be followed by more kinds of insulation before metal siding goes on this fall. Photos by Hans Holznagel

With cranes gone and steel beams no longer flying overhead, we’ve been able walk through our framed-in future home several times during these latter weeks of summer. With just over four months of basic construction to go, we’re now seeing three-dimensional spaces that in the past we could only visualize with drawings, models and lots of imagination. Filmmaker Ted Sikora, who has been shooting a piece about our art and mission since Move On! rehearsals, took a quick August tour with two guys who will spend long work hours in the new building once it’s done: Technical Director and Production Manager Josh Padgett and Stage Manager and Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf. Here’s the fun result. (By the way, actors and staff, that side door, with the ladder: it’ll be a real door with stairs when it’s done!)

Below are still photos of a few emerging features of the building that might help you envision what the theater will eventually look like, even with daylight currently streaming through places that will eventually be sealed up tightly for the sake energy efficiency and the beauty of theatrical lighting.

As for timing: We’re still planning on getting occupancy to the building in early January 2015, holding a series of “sneak preview, theater-in-progress” events and parties there from February through April (including our Annual Benefit on a Saturday in late February), and producing our grand-opening, main-stage musical in April and May. – Hans Holznagel

Donors Chuck and Char Fowler, Board President Jason Bristol, and staffers Stephanie Morrison Hrbek and Josh Padgett toured the auditorium Aug. 21.

Donors Chuck and Char Fowler, Board President Jason Bristol, and staffers Stephanie Morrison Hrbek and Josh Padgett toured the auditorium Aug. 21.

Jason Bristol, president of NWT Board of Trustees, and donors Char and Chuck Fowler pause of an upstage-center picture Aug. 21 on recently completed concrete.

Jason Bristol, president of NWT Board of Trustees, and donors Char and Chuck Fowler paused Aug. 21 for an upstage-center picture on recently completed concrete.

The back wall separating the auditorium from the lobby was becoming visible in this Aug. 25 photo.

The back wall separating the auditorium from the lobby was becoming visible in this Aug. 25 photo. Above it is the balcony.

A ramp from the house to the stage, seen here Aug. 21, is one of the features that will make us compliant -- and gladly so -- with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A ramp from the house to the stage, seen here Aug. 21, is one of the features that will make us compliant — and gladly so — with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

One of two sets of stairs connecting lower level, lobby and balcony was being installed Aug. 20.

One of two sets of stairs connecting lower level, lobby and balcony was being installed Aug. 20.

The windows that will serve our lower-level refreshment counter were becoming visible on Aug. 20.

The windows that will serve our lower-level refreshment counter were becoming visible on Aug. 20.

On Aug. 25, only the northwest corner remained to be closed in with "dense board" insulation over the wood that surrounds the steel frame.

On Aug. 25, only the northwest corner remained to be closed in with “dense board” — the first layer of insulation — over the wood that surrounds the steel frame.

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Near West Theatre’s $7.3 million construction project is part of the cooperative Gordon Square Arts District capital campaign, which has raised nearly $30 million not only for the new NWT but also for the renovation of the now-reopened Capitol (film) Theatre, extensive physical improvements at Cleveland Public Theatre, districtwide streetscape improvements and parking. Near West Theatre is also 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’ artwork’s ready. Now we need you!

JCS publicity imageIt’s exciting every year: Fall auditions are almost here. You know things are getting real when the production staff starts meeting and the first artwork appears. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. and staff designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski have come up with an evocative, beautifully designed publicity image for our coming production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s an electric-blue version of Da Vinci’s Vetruvian man overlaid with ominous crosshairs and crowned with a line from the show, “To conquer death, you only have to die.” Together with the style of lettering, the image suggests a kind of ancient-medieval-contemporary continuum, as well as the tension inherent in the story as Jesus of Nazareth is celebrated one moment and targeted the next.

Now we need you! As noted at the show’s web page and in an earlier blog post, we’re planning an unusual production of this king of rock operas, taking full advantage of the 160-year-old West Side United Church of Christ sanctuary where it will be staged. We need a large, diverse cast of people of all ages, 7 and up, and all levels of acting experience, including no experience at all! Auditions are on the evenings of Sept. 2, 3 and 4. All are encouraged to give it a try; no advance registration is necessary. Consider joining our audition event page on Facebook and inviting other Facebook friends.

If the stage isn’t calling you but you want to get involved, there are plenty of opportunities. We’ll need backstage and tech volunteers who can commit to the last couple of weeks of rehearsal in November and then to every performance, Nov. 21 through Dec. 7. Call Kelcie Dugger at 216-961-9750 if you’re interested. We’ll also need the usual army of volunteers in the box office, concession stand, gift shop, and house, and people to bake goodies and pop popcorn. For those jobs, you can volunteer one night, several times, or for the whole run of the show. To express interest in that, chime in at our Near West Theatre Volunteers Facebook page or send an e-mail to volunteer coordinator Kim Flaherty at volunteers.NWT@gmail.com. And don’t forget about tickets! They’re available online anytime or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- 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


In the spotlight: NWT alumna Amanda Krupman

Amanda Krupman

Amanda Krupman

In 1996, on West 48th Street between Sunnyside and Fulton Parkway in Old Brooklyn, Ohio, a friend invited J.F. Rhodes High School student Amanda Krupman to audition at Near West Theatre. Before she knew it, she was cast as Minnie in Hello, Dolly! She returned for two 1999 shows: Bye Bye Birdie and Seasons of Love. What she may not have known at the time was how these experiences would impact her future.

Today, Amanda is a writer and nightlife performer in Brooklyn, N.Y. She writes short fiction, serves as a mentor for teenage writers through the organization Girls Write Now, and has a great day job in communication for one of the schools at City College of New York. She credits her experiences at Near West Theatre with making a lifelong impact, especially when it comes to mentoring teenagers with creative passions. The Near West Circle interviewed her recently.

Q. What was one of your best NWT memories?

A: As I’m sure you’ll hear from countless other NWT alumni, I found Near West Theatre at a time when it was especially crucial I find structured support, creative validation, and a loving community. It is hard to focus on just one memory. I was cast mates with some singularly hilarious and memorable people, and I could relay a variety of formative experiences and bonds.

What I can say is that I associate my time with NWT as one that taught me about what I like to refer to as the power of kith: that is, of chosen family. As a member of the LGBTQ community, over the years I’ve continually reflected upon my time with NWT as one that introduced me to a functional family model. At the time, I was often overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless love, which infused a solid structure that valued interdependence, accountability, and taking on creative challenges.

Q: You mentioned that mentorship was an important part of your NWT experience – who mentored you and how?

A: Going back to the family model, I consider it to have been a collective mentoring experience; my emotional and creative growth can be traced back to my relationships with Bob Navis, Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, Carole and Bruce Hedderson, Trinidad Rosario, Stephanie Taylor-Ayers, and so many others.

Q. How did NWT prepare you for your current ventures? 

A. As a performer, NWT offered me the building blocks for stage confidence and craft. But more importantly, as I would become an advocate and activist for social justice, I credit NWT with pulling me in close to my fellow Cleveland West Side community members. Through those relationships I exercised my developing senses of empathy, solidarity, humble curiosity (in the face of not knowing answers but still asking questions), and I began to develop the capacity to translate internal passion into external good works.

– Julie Cajigas

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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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