Tag Archives: autumn smith

In the spotlight: NWT alumna Autumn Smith

Autumn Smith

Autumn Smith

Autumn Smith started hanging around Near West Theatre at age 3. She’s now about to finish college, majoring in East Asian studies and Japanese language. “My family had been doing Near West for a long time, so it was only natural I join in,” she says of her years growing up on Cleveland’s Near West Side. “My mother, Julie Smith, worked in shows and on costumes.” Autumn got on stage at age 7 in Follow the Yellow Brick Road (2001) and many more appearances followed — in Snoopy! (2003), Aladdin Jr. (2006) and Finian’s Rainbow (2008), to name a few. She graduated from St. Martin de Porres High School in 2011; is now a senior at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, where overseas studies have taken her to Japan and China (and where she hasn’t been afraid to speak out for justice on campus); and is looking at graduate schools in Colorado and England. “I was interested in Japanese studies because of a draw to the language and the sounds of the language itself. I am pursuing them now with the aim of exploring intercultural relations, identity, and globalization as manifest through Japanese literature and how they can relate to the big-scale cultural gaps between Japan and the United States.”And she’s an accomplished poet. Check out her blog of verse, “I Am Aki,” here. We recently asked her three questions.

1. What’s one strong memory from your years at Near West Theatre?
Autumn Smith (right) as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin Jr. (2006).

Autumn Smith (right front) as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin Jr. (2006), with Jason Dugger as Aladdin.

My strongest memories of Near West are the Annual Benefit and the pumpkin pals/secret pals aspect. I met my best friend through “Meat Pie Pals” during Sweeney Todd (2009) and I am still lucky enough to call her my sister. The Benefit shows, for me, were like one big reunion every year, of people I grew up with and loved, and the opportunity to not only be in one show but in an amalgam of them. They were always my favorite time of the year. I remember one year, a particularly hectic one for me, I came into the Benefit space that was full of hugs and tears and how-have-you-been’s. No matter how many times or how few times I come back to NWT, it’s nice to know that I have people there that will always make it feel like a homecoming.

2. You’re clearly a “words” person. Any connection between your stage experiences and your poetry and language studies?
Autumn (right) belting it out with the Snoopy cast in 2003.

Autumn (right), pencil in hand, in Snoopy! (2003).

I think I mostly got interested in language because it’s a new world you enter when you get the language itself down. Just like poetry, if you get the language down, you can completely transform the way you see the world. When I speak in Japanese, I feel like I enter a different reality, like I can somehow shape it. Obviously, there is a correlation with the stage there. Words give me a medium to interact with the world around me and shape it with the way I use them. It’s my favorite type of Art. People underestimate how much words have brought us to where we are now, but honestly, words have defined everything. Without them, there wouldn’t even be a reality to talk about. Literally though, someone defined reality and made it exist. Think about it.

3. What’s your hope for Near West Theatre now that we’re opening our long-awaited new building and a new chapter in our history?

I’m really excited to see the new and creative ways in which Near West is bound to tackle this new space! I want to see poetry, I want to see one-acts — all the things our old space didn’t really have the room for. I know if anyplace knows how to bring the potential out of the space it is given, it’s Near West! I can’t wait to come home to see the legacy live on in its new reincarnation!

Autumn (left) in Follow the Yellow Brick Road (2001).

Autumn (second from left) in Follow the Yellow Brick Road (2001).

— Hans Holznagel


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. A version of this article will also be featured in the March 2015 edition of Near West Theatre’s e-newsletter, The Near West Circle.


Young voice for justice, making us proud

Autumn Smith grew up on Cleveland’s Near West Side, doing shows at Near West Theatre. Now, when others won’t speak, she’s raising her poet’s voice against racism on campus. We couldn’t be prouder.

Autumn Smith (left, as Nephew), with Jessica Nieves (as Bilbo Baggins) in The Hobbit, 2004.

Autumn Smith (left, as Nephew), with Jessica Nieves (as Bilbo Baggins) in The Hobbit (2004).

Watch her read her poem in the video below. She laments the silent reaction to a slur scrawled in a public place in the environs of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, where she is a student. She describes less-public acts of racial intimidation encountered by students of color at many colleges. “Stuff like this happens on campuses everywhere,” she told me shortly after posting the YouTube video on April 12. “I hope that schools will start to address stuff like this.”

Autumn Smith (left, as Princess Jasmine) with Jason Dugger as the title character in Aladdin (2006).

Autumn Smith (left, as Princess Jasmine) with Jason Dugger as the title character in Aladdin Jr. (2006).

Her courageous decision to speak out is matched by her lean, strong poetry: “These places of diversity keep beating us down and calling us n—–, sitting us at the farthest table in the farthest corner. … Action is too terrifying. It starts vocal. It ends shaking.” Preach it, sister.

Nothing we do at the theater is more important than encouraging people to build community and find their voices. If you know young people who needs to raise or find a voice, through a theater process that builds ensemble and self-esteem, send them to auditions for KLAMOR, our free summer program for ages 9 to 13, (one more day left — Sunday, April 14, at 1 p.m.!); or for our summer youth production, Side Show, May 21, 22 or 23. We need all Autumn Smiths we can get. — Hans Holznagel

Come to our outdoor stage Saturday, June 9

Free public performances in the afternoon and a free public “open mic” in the evening will be featured on the Near West Theatre Stage at Discover Gordon Square Arts District Day, this Saturday, June 9, 2012. The stage will be under a tent along West 67th Street just north of Detroit Avenue (near the festival’s beer garden), on the future site of the theater’s new performance center. A picnic next to the tent will offer hot dogs and the “cornhole” bag-toss game. Afternoon stage performances, in 20-minute segments on the hour and half-hour, will include excerpts from recent Near West Theatre musical productions and performances by young NWT actors and alumni. DJ Karluis will fill in the gaps with danceable tunes. The evening open mic, from 7 to 9 p.m., will feature Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. accompanying on the piano. He’ll have Broadway and pop collections, or bring your own sheet music to sing from; or read a poem or accompany yourself on guitar. The schedule below features Jordan Cooper as musical director and accompanist from 2 to 6 p.m. and Bob Navis Jr. in the evening.

[SCHEDULE CORRECTED 6/5/12: We had inadvertently left out the “Into the Woods” segment! And corrected again 6/6/12: Molly’s now at 4:30 and Luke at 5:30.]

2:00 p.m.: Selections from Ragtime, the Musical. Performers include Geoff Short, Nikki Sumlin, Hans Holznagel, Skipper Rankin and Winter Castro. Selections include “Gliding,” “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes.”

2:30: Solos by NWT actor Mariah Burks. A veteran of NWT’s children’s, youth and intergenerational shows who will be appearing in this summer’s production of Hairspray, the Broadway Musical, Mariah is a student at Bowling Green State University.

3:00: Selections from Oliver! Performers include Jeffrey Braun, Faith Green, Jonas Kukelhan, Skipper Rankin, Winter Castro, Edwin Smith, Gwen Stembridge, Perren Hedderson and Kelcie Dugger. Selections include “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” “Where is Love,” “Who Will Buy?”

3:30: Selections from Miss Saigon. Performers include Anthony Williams, Izzy Sansom and Mariah Burks. Selections include “I Still Believe” and “Bui-Doi.”

4:00:  DJ break. Picnic continues while DJ Karluis cranks dance tunes under the tent.

4:30: Performance by Molly Andrews-Hinders. A veteran of NWT children’s, youth and intergenerational shows and a theater graduate of Wright State University, Molly is an actor (currently appearing in Cleveland Public Theatre’s Akarui), playwright and stage manager.

5:00: Selections from Ragtime, the Musical. Same program as 2:00.

5:30:  Solos by Luke Wehner. Luke’s NWT credits include The Who’s TommyThe Secret Garden and Rent.

6:00: Selections from Into the Woods.  Performers include Patrick Ciamacco, Joe Kenderes, Luke Wehner, Kelcie Dugger, Faith Green, Jonas Kukelhan, Skipper Rankin and Winter Castro. Selections include “Agony,” “Giants in the Sky” and “Children Will Listen.”

6:30:  Original music by Perren Hedderson, Noah Hrbek and Alexis Hedderson. Perren is NWT’s Assistant Technical Director. All three performers are veterans of NWT’s children’s, youth and intergenerational shows.

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.: Open mic! The featured act is you! All are welcome to take a try at our open mic. NWT Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. will accompany all comers. Bring your own sheet music for him to play, or make a selection from a few Broadway and pop collections he’ll have on had. Or accompany yourself on guitar. Poetry readings are also welcome. Or, of course, bring your own coffee, relax under the tent and listen. Invited performers you might see at the mic include comedian Matt Allard, poet Autumn Smith, and singers/actors Kelcie Dugger, Mo Eutazia, CoCo Smith and Xavier Reminick.