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.
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.
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!
— Hans Holznagel
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.