Look closely and you may recognize the leading ogre in Shrek the Musical, the first-ever main-stage show in Near West Theatre’s brand-new performance venue, opening April 24. He’s played by Patrick Ciamacco, who since 1996 has made dozens of appearances at Near West’s old Ohio City venue and on many other Cleveland-area stages. Perhaps you’ve seen him at his very own Blank Canvas Theatre, which he founded in 2011. He even played Shrek once before, in Mercury Summer Stock’s 2013 production of the musical, alongside Justin Woody, who likewise is reprising the role of Donkey at Near West.
Patrick and buddy Joe Kenderes came in from suburban Brunswick to audition for Near West’s youth production of South Pacific in 1996. It was the start of a long relationship with Near West, where both of them have performed many times since and where Patrick has also directed and assisted in other capacities over the years.
“I remember walking up to St. Pat’s for that first audition and not being sure if we were in the right place,” Patrick says. “When we got upstairs, I was scared, thinking, ‘There are so many teens here.’ I ended up getting cast in the ensemble and had no idea it would change my life like it did: performing in so many shows, directing, working with some amazing kids, and now seeing those kids all grown up. It has brought so many friends and ‘family’ into my life.”
Patrick graduated from Brunswick High School in 1998 and recently became the youngest inductee into its Alumni Hall of Fame. He now lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, close to Near West’s new Gordon Square theater and Blank Canvas’ West 78th Street venue, where he spends long hours. “I love that I can produce smaller musical and non-musical shows there that can also provide entertainment and community outreach. We are about to open Extremities, a searing play about an attempted rape and its aftermath as the victim turns the tables on her attacker. It explores themes that are part of a national conversation about domestic abuse, rape and assault. We’ve even partnered with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. They’ll be doing talk-backs after some of our shows.”
He answered an e-mail in the middle of the night, in a week filled with Near West rehearsals and Blank Canvas tech, to answer three questions about Shrek the Musical. It’s on stage April 24 through May 17 at 6702 Detroit Ave. Tickets are available online or by calling 216-961-6891, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
1. What’s unique about Near West’s take on Shrek the Musical? The actors and staff who are telling the story. The process of developing any production at Near West Theatre allows the cast to really put themselves into the story: their experiences, their feelings, their heart. You’ll see that on this wonderful new stage. All of them, from the Donkey to the Gingerbread Cookie, are pouring their souls into the show.
2. What’s the greatest challenge in playing the role of Shrek? Living up to the expectations people have while still exploring the role from an actor’s point of view. It’s a character we all know and love. My goal is to put my own nuances into the role while balancing what the audience comes expecting to see and hear. I don’t want to reinvent Shrek. Kids, especially, want to see the green ogre they have watched over and over again. The smile on their faces after a show is better than anything.
3. What kind of an era do you hope you’re helping to launch with this first show ever in this brand-new venue? This show is a giant fairy tale. It quite possibly could be one of the largest shows NWT has ever done. Ogres, donkeys, dragons, castles — it’s huge! This show will bring in the era of Broadway-esque spectacle and magic that this neighborhood has not yet ever seen.
— Hans Holznagel
Near West Theatre’s 2015 opening events, including Shrek the Musical, are presented by Thompson Hine and its subsidiary, PMC. Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing operating 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.