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
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.