Emotions. You’re not supposed to overdo them on stage or even “do” them at all, depending on your method. “You can’t act an emotion,” the saying goes. Acting is action: wanting something and doing something to get it. You’re supposed to find your character’s intention, be in your body, be alert, be in the moment, connect with the actors around you — and act, passionately! If emotion is present, that’s okay. Characters are people; people have emotions. But feelings are never the main thing you’re playing. You’ve got actions to take, a story to tell. So goes the wisdom.
Pardon us for a moment, then, while we get emotional. It’s tech week — always filled with all kinds of emotions! — but we need to say a word to mark this particular opening week, this once-in-a-lifetime moment Near West Theatre. We’ve been doing musical theater since 1978 as a way of building community and transforming lives — in rented space. We started searching for a home of our own in 1999, shortly after we became an independent nonprofit. And now — how do we say this with enough gravity and celebration? — IT’S HERE: Grand Opening Night! On Friday, April 24, in true, grand, Near West Theatre style, an affordable-price-paying audience will be seated in our brand new theater at 6702 Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Arts District. At 7:30, a cast of more than 60 children, teens and adults — ordinary people, all volunteers, from many races and backgrounds — will take the stage in Shrek the Musical. When that happens, well, forgive us if we shed a tear of joy. It won’t be the first time. We’ve been feeling it all winter and spring: on Feb. 13, when we got our certificate of occupancy and wandered around in awe of this roomy, comfortable, accessible space of our own; on Feb. 28, during our Community Open House; on March 14, with a Dance Party that filled the place with fun energy; on March 21, as we held our Annual Benefit and Gala in our own home for the first time ever; on March 22, as Move On!, a documentary about us, debuted in the Cleveland International Film Festival. Truth be told, we’ve also been getting a huge musical up all the while, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to get emotional.
Imagine, though, how it will feel this Friday to see an opening-night curtain go up for the first time in this new space. For those who’ve been on this journey the longest, we predict a weepy mix of nostalgia and hope: bittersweet memories of those no longer with us and how proud they would be. Giddiness as we reflect on the potential we face in a new building, in a new neighborhood, with partners new and old. Melting, weak-kneed being-in-love with the astounding variety of people who continue to create our art, individually and collectively, onstage and backstage: the hues of the faces, the shapes of the bodies, the timbres of the voices, and the humanity and commitment that all of them bring to the task. Breathlessness at the always-beautiful visual and aural art of our production staff, now amplified by fly space and new technical capacities.
Gratitude is perhaps the deepest among our emotions right now. Gratitude to the generous donors to the Gordon Square Arts District capital campaign, which built this building and so much more. Head-shaking amazement at the tireless leadership of Gordon Square’s Board and staff and the courageous, visionary toughness of our partners in that journey: Cleveland Public Theatre, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Councilman Matt Zone. Memories, pleasant and otherwise, of the struggles we all faced together, even surviving a Great Recession in the middle of that campaign. Indebtedness to decades of sacrifice and support from Near West Theatre’s own Trustees and supporters, who now lead us into a continued future of musical theater that matters.
It is all about action, isn’t it? Thirty-seven years of action and intention. Wanting something, trying to get it, connecting with actors around you. Thank you for acting with us, all of you, longtime Near West Theatre family members and partners and newcomers alike. Wherever you are — behind the curtain, in the wings, in the audience — dab those tears and take a deep breath. “Places!” — Hans Holznagel
Opening night is now sold out, but plenty of tickets are available for the remaining performances of Shrek the Musical through May 17. Purchase online or call 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Any tickets not sold in advance are available at the door starting one hour before show time. A reserved Star Seat, which helps support Near West Theatre’s art and mission and comes with additional benefits, is $20. General admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children.
Near West Theatre is grateful to its 2015 Presenting Sponsor, Thompson Hine, and to many other generous season sponsors; for ongoing operating support from the Ohio Arts Council, Cuyahoga 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.