Tag Archives: edwin smith

In the spotlight: NWT alumna Mariah Burks

Mariah Burks during a recent benefit performance at Bowling Green State.

Mariah Burks during a recent benefit performance at Bowling Green State University.

Mariah Burks (right) with Molly Nagin in The Truth About Cinderella (2002).

Mariah (right) with Molly Nagin in The Truth About Cinderella (2002).

Mariah Victoria Burks, a 3rd-grader at Cleveland’s Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, was living right around the corner from Near West Theatre when she first took the stage as one of the orphans in Annie (2001). She was a regular cast member for years to come, even after her family moved to North Royalton, where she graduated from high school in 2011. At Near West she played leading roles in The Wiz (2009), Rent (2010) and Miss Saigon (2011), and was most recently seen at NWT in Move On! (2014), our farewell show at the St. Pat’s Club Building. A recent Region II winner of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival’s Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition, she’ll compete nationally in April in Washington, D.C. She will graduate from Bowling Green State University this spring with a B.A. degree in communications with a specialization in musical theater. This fall she’ll enter the three-year Master of Fine Arts acting program at Case Western Reserve University. We recently asked her three questions.

Mariah as Dorothy in The Wiz (2009) with Pat Ciamacco (foreground) and (from left) Darius Stubbs, Edwin Smith and Cory Zukoski.

Mariah as Dorothy in The Wiz (2009) with Pat Ciamacco (foreground) and (from left) Darius Stubbs, Edwin Smith and Cory Zukoski.

1. What’s something you learned at Near West Theatre that sticks with you, even now, as an advanced student of acting? No matter what you’re going through, you too have a story to tell that can change and impact anybody, anywhere, as long as you, the performer, are open and willing to let your story constantly change something in you. That way, your story never becomes old but consistently refreshed and revived.

Mariah as Kim, with Michael Glavan as Chris, in Miss Saigon (2011).

Mariah as Kim, with Michael Glavan as Chris, in Miss Saigon (2011).

2. Any thoughts on growing up on West 41st Street, then moving away but staying connected to NWT? At first it was a challenge to have moved away from the place I knew I could easily go to just to have fun and let loose. But even after moving, I found that the pull of NWT was even stronger and that I had to be part of it some way, somehow. I could not let myself not be in this closely knit family. Even now, knowing that my collegiate schedule conflicts with the Annual Benefit is always a heart breaker for me. But I know that no matter where I go, I always have NWT family and friends that will welcome me back with open arms and hearts!

3. What are your hopes for Near West as we open a new building and a new chapter in our history? My hope is that for every show that is produced, hundreds and hundreds upon hundreds of people will flock to see what makes NWT not just a diamond in the rough, but the epitome of raw, cultured and love-woven theater. I truly hope that NWT and its people flourish in whatever they do!

Mariah (in headband) in Move On! (2014).

Mariah (left center, in headband) in Move On! (2014).

 — Hans Holznagel

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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.


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.