A downpour started near the end of the final performance of Move On! Sunday afternoon and caused a planned outdoor farewell gathering to be moved inside the St. Pat’s Club Building. We didn’t get to join hands in a circle around St. Pat’s to say goodbye to the building that has been our home since 1978, but perhaps it’s just as well. The hundreds of people who instead formed a “messy circle” indoors, spanning the stage, the floor and the risers, were a lovely mosaic from over the years: The cast, crew and staff of Move On! Father Mark Dinardo of St. Patrick’s Church. Gordon Square Arts District leaders and longtime NWT supporters Dick and Pat Pogue and Tom and Sandy Sullivan. Actors from every decade of past productions — longtime participants like Joanie Hoover, arguably NWT’s poet laureate. Parents and families of the Move On! cast. Volunteers from the house that day. And members of the community who simply answered the public call to show up for the post-show farewell moment. Young, old, participant, supporter, hand in hand, arm over shoulder — there couldn’t have been a moment that was more “NWT” in style, and maybe especially because it was indoors on a muggy, sweaty June afternoon.
A lovely litany written by Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., which he led with founding Executive Director and choreographer Stephanie Morrison Hrbek — complete with the chant, “Ho, ho, hey, hey, Near West Theatre moves on today”– was a fitting tribute of well wishes and blessings upon the building that will forever contain memories of 36 years of relationships and art.
But it was really a coda to what had already functioned as the major blessing of the day: An off-the-hook grand finale of Move On!, a high-energy collection of music, big-screen projection and spoken word that somehow went to a new level in its ninth performance. The cast might understandably have gone all weepy, given how much this place has meant to everyone involved. But something else happened instead. To be sure, there were tears shed on stage, and there was nothing fake about them. But mostly, from the downbeat of “Merrily We Roll Along” to the company exit on “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” you could tell everyone onstage was in the zone: giving and receiving energy from each other, improvising within a well designed structure, nourished by (and returning) the appreciation given them by an audience that stood, shouted, joined in when invited, and interrupted the performance with applause like never before — in a run that had already featured remarkably appreciative audiences. That’s what happens when community is built on stage in each production, and when connections with the wider community are built over the years. That’s Near West Theatre.
Another downpour is no doubt happening as this post is being written. It’s the last hour of the last farewell cast-crew-staff gift circle on a stage that has seen dozens and dozens of them. Tears of release, sadness, gratitude and love are the stuff of these goodbye circles, where folks who have seen way too much of each other for many, many weeks now realize it’s suddenly over. This group knows it has the added task of saying goodbye in behalf of hundreds and hundreds of participants, each of whom has left a bit of his or her spirit embedded in the floorboards and wafting through the ether of the third-floor ballroom of the St. Pat’s Club Building. Whether or not they’re conscious of it, they and the wider community that gathered there today will be the ones to carry a large measure of that spirit into the future — first in our fall 2014 production at West Side United Church of Christ (soon to be announced) and then, in 2015, in our new theater now under construction in the Gordon Square Arts District.
For now, though, Near West Theatre has left the building. Long live the memories and legacies of the St. Pat’s years. — Hans Holznagel
Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts Council, Cuyahoga 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.