Tag Archives: coco smith

Near West Theatre documentary at the film fest tonight

You’ve got one more chance tonight to see Ted Sikora’s energetic documentary about Near West Theatre at the 39th Cleveland International Film Festival. It’s at 8:45 p.m. at Tower City Cinemas. Advice to first-time festival-goers: Act now. Get on the Festival’s box office page, get your ticket, get downtown early to park (or better yet, take the RTA) and find the right color-coded line to stand in. The showing’s code is MOVE24.

Near West Theatre's Move On!, June 2014. Photo by Terry Schordock

Move On! on stage, June 2014. Photo by Terry Schordock

You’ll be glad you did. Ted started coming to rehearsals in the spring of 2014 for the musical Move On!, our farewell to the St. Pat’s Club Building, our home of 36 years. His goal was an 8- to 10-minute fundraising piece. He was so taken with our process and our people that he kept coming back for dozens of hours of shooting. The result was this 88-minute documentary that really does catch the spirit of how we use theater to bring people together, build community, and by the way, stage a darned good, professionally produced show with a huge cast of ordinary people. Theater critic Andrea Simakis gave the film an “A” in The Plain Dealer (March 23, Page A2) and online at Cleveland.com.

CIFF_39season_stampTonight’s screening follows a packed neighborhood showing at the Capitol Theatre in the Gordon Square Arts District on Sunday, March 22, and a screening downtown on Monday afternoon, March 23. Audiences seem to be liking it. If you do, too, don’t forget to tear off that little “excellent” corner of the CIFF ballot you’ll receive tonight. And say hi to Ted. He’ll be there for a director’s Q&A. — Hans Holznagel

– – – – –

The film Move On! was made possible by special support from Char and Chuck Fowler and from The George Gund Foundation. Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing operating support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares; for special support from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeastern Ohio for equipment used by young people in technical workshops and other backstage experiences; and to our 2015 Presenting Sponsor, Thompson Hine.

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‘pARTy’ with NWT @ Gordon Square, Sat., June 14

pARTYlogoThe Near West Theatre outdoor stage returns this Saturday, just a few feet from the steel rising above the site of our new theater in the Gordon Square Arts District. Our stage on Detroit Avenue at West 67th Street will be among the featured music venues during the annual pARTy in Gordon Square festival on Saturday, June 14. Brief performances every half hour, from 2 p.m. until shortly before 6 p.m., will include a kids’ ensemble singing selections from Once On This Island Jr. and a half-dozen familiar NWT soloists sharing Broadway and other popular and original tunes, accompanied by pianist Jordan Cooper. In the past, when our site was not yet excavated, we had room under the NWT tent for a DJ, dancing and various activities, ranging from games to a cookout to kids’ crafts. This year — because we’re FINALLY UNDER CONSTRUCTION — we’ve got less space. But it’ll still be fun: a stage, a tent, some chairs, lots of great music, and a constant stream of “pARTy”-ers going by the space that will soon become a plaza in front of our new buidling. (Sorry, no Broadway karaoke with Bob Navis Jr. this year: we all have to get over to St. Pat’s for a 7:30 p.m. show!)

Singer Mariah Burks and accompanist Jordan Cooper, seen here in 2012, are among the performers returning to the NWT outdoor stage on June 14.

Singer Mariah Burks and accompanist Jordan Cooper, seen here in 2012, are among the performers returning to the NWT outdoor stage on June 14.

The fun throughout the Gordon Square Arts District starts in the morning in and around the Capitol Theatre, with cartoons, face painting aand shuttle rides to Cleveland’s East Side for Parade the Circle. It continues throughout the afternoon and evening with music, vendors and activities in several Gordon Square locations, especially at the main stage in Cleveland Public Theatre’s parking lot. Of course, you’re also encouraged to make your way over to Bridge Avenue and West 38th Street for Near West Theatre’s 7:30 performance of Move On!, as our farewell to the St. Patrick’s Club Building continues. Below is the Near West Theatre Stage lineup. Stop by and see us! — Hans Holznagel

 Near West Theatre Stage Schedule, Sat., June 14, 2014:

Song from Broadway and the great American songbook!

Time Performer(s)
2:00 to 2:15 Once On This Island Jr. ensemble
2:30 to 2:45 Mariah Burks
3:00 to 3:15 Once On This Island Jr. ensemble (repeat)
3:30 to 3:45 Eric Fancher
4:00 to 4:15 Trinidad Snider
4:30 to 4:45 Kevin Joseph Kelly
5:00 to 5:15 CoCo Smith
5:30 to 5:45 Mo Eutazia and Kelcie Dugger

Colorful show, bold casting choice

The casting decision was natural. After auditioning many teens and young adults, Director Bob Navis Jr. decided on who would play the lead roles of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton in this summer’s youth production of Side Show, opening July 19. One, Shekinah (CoCo) Smith, was African American. The other, Erin Sheplavy, was European American. This was almost a non-issue for us at Near West Theatre.

(From left) Musical Director Jordan Cooper works with Side Show twins CoCo Smith and Erin Sheplavy at a June 2013 rehearsal.

(From left) Musical Director Jordan Cooper works with Side Show twins CoCo Smith and Erin Sheplavy at a June 2013 rehearsal. Photo by Cory Markowitz

The races have been mixing on this urban crossroads of a stage for a long time. We’ve had interracial siblings, couples and families. Multiple combinations of black, white, brown and other beautiful hues of actors have played Bye Bye Birdie parents, Willy Wonka grandparents, Into the Woods spouses, Finian’s Rainbow siblings, Cratchit family members, you name it. Even in an age when mixed-race families are ever more common, heads in the audience must sometimes spin trying to figure out whose children are whose and how it’s all possible (“are they adopted?”). Until, of course, music, story and personal journey transport us to the Land of Suspended Disbelief and we all pretty much stop thinking about it.

So it was almost a non-issue. We still had to reckon with this: conjoined twins of different races aren’t known to exist in real life. But why not on stage? After all, how many times have Violet and Daisy been played by actual identical-twin actors, let alone conjoined ones? So the audience always has to suspend some disbelief. We’re just taking it to another level. And we’re not doing it to be strange or shocking. The 2010 census put Cleveland at 53.3 percent African American and 39.3 percent white (among other diverse racial groups). People from all over the city and suburbs audition here. The best matches for lead roles will simply be of different races sometimes. We think Side Show‘s story can be told compellingly and with integrity with interracial twins. We explained that to the folks at Samuel French, Inc. — the owner of Side Show, with whose permission we’re performing it — in alerting them about this nontraditional casting decision, and we’re glad to have their blessing.

The musical runs for eight shows only, July 19-Aug. 4.

The musical runs for eight shows only, July 19-Aug. 4.

We’re also glad to have a cast of 13- to 21-year-olds performing this colorful, urgent, touching and sometimes disturbing piece of musical theater. The subject of carnival freaks and how they’re presented can be unsettling. But who better than young people to wrestle with this material and the twins’ search for love?  “As Violet and Daisy struggle to stop defining themselves by their physical limitations, the people around them are fascinated, fearful, compelled and distanced by their talents, their charm and their abnormality,” Bob Navis says. “Our diverse cast of teens and young adults, simply due to their ages, deal daily with this show’s themes of self -image, social acceptance and personal fulfillment. As a result, we believe this production will explode with vitality and immediacy.” Our publicity image for the show, featuring stylized profiles of CoCo and Erin, carries one of show’s song titles:  “Who Will Love Me as I Am?”

Side Show runs for just eight performances on our main stage at 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, July 19 through Aug. 4. Tickets and information are available at our website, or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seats are $8 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under (the show has intense scenes not appropriate for younger children). Or support Near West Theatre’s art and mission by purchasing a $20 reserved Star Seat with special benefits. — Hans Holznagel

Members of the Side Show cast in a "living sculpture" acting exercise at a June 2013 rehearsal. Photo by Cory Markowitz

Members of the Side Show cast in a “living sculpture” acting exercise at a June 2013 rehearsal. Photo by Cory Markowitz

SIDE SHOW

Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell

Music by Henry Krieger

Vocal and dance arrangements by David Chase

Orchestrations by Harold Wheeler

Side Show is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.

Near West Theatre is grateful for regular program support from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the Ohio Arts Council and Greater Cleveland Community Shares.


‘pARTy’ in our tent, Sat., June 8

Performances by Near West Theatre kids who are no longer kids — plus your chance at live Broadway karaoke — will be among the featured attractions on our stage at the pARTy in Gordon Square street festival Saturday, June 8, from 2 to 8 p.m.  Join us under the tent at West 67th Street and Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, for performances on the half-hour from 2 to 6 p.m. Then, from 6 to 8 p.m., have fun on stage (or just listening ) during Broadway Open Mike, led and accompanied by Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr.  Popcorn and NWT balloons will be available.  It’s all free!  (We’ll have a donation jar on hand to help cover the snacks and balloons.)

Our stage is part of a wider neighborhood bash that brings thousands of people to the Gordon Square Arts District the first Saturday each June for live entertainment, art exhibits, vendors, food trucks, a beer garden and the built-in fun that already exists: restaurants, pubs, the Capitol Theatre at West 65th and Detroit (for movies) and Cleveland Public Theatre, on Detroit just east of West 65th, where there’ll be another whole outdoor stage of fun.  pARTy in Gordon Square is deliberately held the same day as University Circle’s annual “Parade the Circle” on the East Side; shuttle transportation is available between the two.

Featured in the afternoon are performers who were children or teens when they first joined casts at Near West Theatre and have remained connected as adult volunteers, staff, supporters, etc.: Mariah Burks, Trinidad Snider, Mo Eutazia, Kelcie Dugger, Sarah Hess, Shekinah (CoCo) Smith, and Patrick Ciamacco, who will bring actors from his own Blank Canvas Theatre. Also joining us are Kevin Marr, who helped choreograph our recent production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and Ryann Angelotti, seen in our 2012 productions of Ragtime and Children of Eden. Jordan Cooper will accompany many of the acts on the keyboard. The NWT Stage schedule is below. Hope to see you there! — Hans Holznagel

Time segment Near West Theatre Stage Schedule, 6/8/13
2:00 to 2:20 Kevin Marr – Movement & dance. Watch or join in!
2:20 to 2:30 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
2:30 to 2:50 Mariah Burks – Broadway/popular songbook (Jordan Cooper, accompanist)
2:50 to 3:00 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
3:00 to 3:20 Trinidad Snider – Broadway/popular songbook (Jordan Cooper, accompanist)
3:20 to 3:30 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
3:30 to 3:50 Blank Canvas Theatre – Selections from recent Blank Canvas Theatre productions
3:50 to 4:00 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
4:00 to 4:20 Mo Eutazia and Kelcie Dugger – Guitar & vocals
4:20 to 4:30 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
4:30 to 4:50 Ryann Angelotti – Broadway/popular songbook (Jordan Cooper, accompanist)
4:50 to 5:00 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
5:00 to 5:20 Sarah Hess – Music and fun (Jordan Cooper, accompanist)
5:20 to 5:30 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
5:30 to 5:50 Shekinah (CoCo) SmithBroadway/popular songbook (Jordan Cooper, accompanist)
5:50 to 6:00 Dance break with DJ Karluis / stage transition
6:00 to 8:00 “Broadway Open Mike” with Bob Navis Jr. at the keyboard. Pick a song!
Stop by or stay a long time, as people did variously for our 2012 performances.

Stop by or stay a long time, as people did variously for our 2012 performances.

Our corner is near the center of street-festival action along Detroit Ave.

Our corner is near the center of street-festival action along Detroit Ave.

"Get up, stand up" during  DJ dance breaks between acts.

“Get up, stand up” during DJ dance breaks between acts.


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.


They auditioned and loved it

Luke Wehner

CoCo Smith

Still deciding about Hairspray auditions this week? CoCo and Luke were uncertain about their first Near West Theatre auditions, too. Hear how it came out for them in the videos below.  Come to 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, at 6:45 tonight (May 23) or tomorrow (May 24) and join in the fun.


Actor CoCo Smith on NWT

CoCo Smith of Cleveland talks about auditioning as a stranger a couple of years ago and what she values about Near West Theatre’s rehearsal process. She’s in the cast of Ragtime, opening Friday, May 4, for a nine-show run through May 20, 2012.