Tag Archives: jacques brel

‘A spiritual dimension to this work’

The folks at the Cleveland Arts Prize are posting a series of videos about the lives and work of past winners. We just got a look at this gem of a piece on our own Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, soon to be posted at the Arts Prize video page. Stephanie, our Executive Director and founder, won CAP’s 2009 Martha Joseph Prize for Distinguished Service to the Arts. Each year the prize goes to an organization or person whose “exceptional commitment, vision, leadership or philanthropy has made a significant contribution to the vitality of the arts in Northeast Ohio.” Filmmaker Ted Sikora interviewed Stephanie and documented her at work during dress rehearsals for our May 2013 production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He’s done a nice job of capturing how, in Stephanie’s life, “musical theater pulled together all the things that I love.” “There is a spiritual dimension to this work that feeds me continually,” she says. — Hans Holznagel

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Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic support from the Ohio Arts CouncilCuyahoga Arts and Culture, and Greater Cleveland Community Shares.

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New: weekend show info by phone

You can now phone in to check ticket availability on Near West Theatre show weekends — or to tell us you won’t be using tickets you bought. Here’s how it works. For the final three performances of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (May 17, 18, 19), telephone ticket sales will end as usual, for the weekend, at 4 p.m. Friday. After that you can still make advance purchases online. Or you can buy in person at the theater, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, starting 1 hour before show time. What’s new is that we’ll keep our box office phone line open all weekend for two reasons:

  1. in case you want to ask about ticket availability; or,
  2. so you can tell us you won’t be using tickets you purchased in advance, allowing us to free up your seats and accommodate other patrons.

Just call our regular ticket line, 216-961-6391, and you’ll reach a mobile phone answered by cheerful, efficient Near West staffer Kelcie Dugger (or you’ll reach voice mail if she’s swamped or it’s the middle of the night). Please note: she still can’t make reservations for you if it’s not 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a weekday. But she can help you with items (1) and (2) above.

Brel, by the way, is a sight to behold, reviewed well by Thomas Mulready at CoolCleveland.com. The show is by turns raucous, tender, irreverent and touching. Here are pictures from a few scenes. We hope to see you there.

Kevin Kelly (foreground) with (in background, L. to R.) Roberta McLaughlin, Quin Galvin (partially obscured), John Thobaben, Coco Smith and Eric Thomas Fancher during a Jacques Brel rehearsal. Photos by Terry Schordock.

Kevin Kelly (foreground) with (in background, L. to R.) Roberta McLaughlin, Quin Galvin (partially obscured), John Thobaben, Coco Smith and Eric Thomas Fancher during a Jacques Brel rehearsal. Photos by Terry Schordock.

Brel's director, Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., is himself on stage -- a rare occurence at Near West.

Brel’s director, Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., is himself on stage — a rare occurrence at Near West.

Actors hit the stage and start warming up just about as soon as the audience starts to arrive.

Actors take stage and start warming up just about as soon as the audience arrives.

Musical director Jordan Cooper channels Edith Piaf.

Musical director Jordan Cooper channels Edith Piaf.

Joy and irreverence gives way at times to war, death and mourning -- here, with Cory Markowitz and Colin Bigley.

Joy and irreverence give way at times to war, death and mourning — here, with Cory Markowitz and Colin Bigley.


Sign up to volunteer!

Volunteering at a show is great way to support and experience Near West Theatre’s community-building mission. Now we need people of all ages — including you — for May performances of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. There are many ways to help: Join the team that staffs the concession stand, gift shop or ticket table. Greet patrons and hand out playbills. Serve as a house manager or assistant. Bake a batch of cookies or brownies. Pop popcorn. Please consider volunteering for one or more of these performances.  Arrival time is 6 p.m. (or 1:30 on Sundays):

Sue Stewart, our friendly Volunteer Coordinator (shown here at the center of box-office action during the 2012 production of Rent) will sign you up to help in one of many ways.

Sue Stewart, our friendly Volunteer Coordinator (shown here at the center of box-office action during the 2010 production of Rent), will sign you up to help in one of many ways.

  • Friday, May 3
  • Saturday, May 4
  • Thursday, May 9
  • Friday, May 10
  • Saturday, May 11
  • Sunday, May 12
  • Friday, May 17
  • Saturday, May 18
  • Sunday, May 19

Besides the fun and satisfaction of volunteering, you’ll also experience the excitement of show time at the theater – and you can see the show for free (unless it’s sold out!). Please sign up by contacting Volunteer Coordinator Sue Stewart, susanstewart11@aol.com, 216-861-0318.

Running a spotlight (as Noah Utterback did for Children of Eden in 2012) is one of many tasks handled by our volunteer crew.

Running a spotlight (as Noah Utterback did for Children of Eden in 2012) is one of many tasks handled by our volunteer crew.

Crew needed, too. Volunteer backstage and balcony crew members are needed from April 21 through May 19, for the last two weeks of Brel rehearsals and the run of the show. It’s fun, active and team-oriented. To volunteer for the crew, contact Kelcie Dugger, kdugger@nearwesttheatre.org, 216-961-9750.

Don’t forget our new Star Seats! Forty years ago this month, Jacques Brel opened in the State Theatre lobby and helped save Cleveland’s Playhouse Square. Now Near West Theatre revives this iconic musical, not with four performers on cabaret stools but with a diverse castBREL poster 2013 of 32 community actors! Don’t miss these high-energy, dramatic songs and stories of passion, personal struggle and social critique. Consider supporting our art and mission – and ensuring affordable community prices – by enjoying a $20 reserved Star Seat with additional benefits. Our regular community ticket prices are also available, of course: $8 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under (mature themes; parental discretion advised), general admission.  Order online; call 216-961-6391 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays; or visit our business office, 6516 Detroit Ave., Suite 9, during those same hours. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the performance site, 3606 Bridge Ave., starting an hour before show time.

Crew members from a couple years back take a break by concessions: (l. to r.) Jason Dugger, Alicia Cleveland, Emily Suma, Rod Cardwell, Leland Pestak, Hayden Neidhardt, Mo Eutazia, Carter Smith.

Crew members from a couple years back take a break by concessions: (l. to r.) Jason Dugger, Alicia Cleveland, Emily Suma, Rod Cardwell, Leland Pestak, Hayden Neidhardt, Mo Eutasia, Carter Smith.


Cast meets exonerated prisoner; hug ensues

It was one of those classic Near West Theatre moments, where a profound conversation was best summed up in a silent, mass hug and a song about love. David Ayers of Cleveland, released in 2011 after serving 11 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and further vindicated by a jury on March 8, told his story at a rehearsal of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris on Monday evening, March 25. Seated in a circle with 33 cast and staff members, Ayers and attorney Carrie Wood of the Ohio Innocence Project described his journey through a system that conveniently but unjustly convicted him — and of advocates who used DNA testing and other evidence to show that he could not have been the perpetrator of a brutal 1999 sexual assault and murder in an apartment building where he had been serving as a security guard. Answering questions from the cast, Ayers spoke of the struggles of serving a sentence of 40 years to life, mostly in Ohio’s Mansfield Correctional Institution:  The pain of enduring the deaths of his parents while he was incarcerated. The tedious, 50-cents-an-hour job plucking excess rubber off of car parts with tiny pliers. The worry, the lack of sleep, the anger at God, the weeping, the migrane headaches. The inability to trust anyone in prison. “You  have to fight to survive, or else people will take advantage of you,” he said. What helped most? “People who believed in me” — not only the Ohio Innocence Project and the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office, but friends and family who kept writing letters and who were there for him when he was released. His descriptions of the emotional and physical effects of imprisonment will inform the Brel cast and staff as they shape a musical filled with songs of passion, personal struggle and social commentary. Ayers, now enrolled in college courses in criminal justice (“I want to be a crime scene investigator,” he said), engaged the cast throughout the evening with frequent smiles, laughter and gentle thoughtfulness. He was moved to tears when presented with a framed certificate that thanked him for sharing his story and for his integrity, persistence and courage. His and Wood’s were not the only tears as the cast showed their gratitude by singing “If We Only Have Love,” the closing number from Jacques Brel. In the silence after the song, cast member Christine Thompson stepped forward to give Ayers a hug. Then the entire ensemble rushed to surround him in a group embrace.  — Hans Holznagel

David Ayers (right foreground) and attorney Carrie Wood of the Ohio Innocence Project, met with the Jacques Brel cast on March 25, 2013. Photo by Hans Holznagel

David Ayers (right foreground), who served 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and, to his left, Ohio Innocence Project attorney Carrie Wood, met with Jacques Brel cast members on March 25, 2013. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Thirty-two cast, crew and staff members circled up for the conversation with David Ayers and Carrie Wood in the St. Pat's space being prepared for in-the-round performances of Jacques Brel in May.

Thirty-three cast and staff members circled up for the March 25 conversation with David Ayers and Carrie Wood in the St. Pat’s space where Jacques Brel will be performed in the round in May.

Cast members thanked David Ayers and Carrie Wood by singing "If We Only Have Love."

Cast and staff thanked David Ayers and Carrie Wood by singing “If We Only Have Love,” Brel’s closing number.

David's remarkable story and the emotional closing song resulted in no shortage of tears.

David Ayers’ remarkable story and the emotional closing song resulted in no shortage of tears.

With words spoken and song sung, all that was left for the cast to do was mob David Ayers with a group hug.

With words spoken and song sung, the only thing left to do was mob David Ayers with a Near West Theatre group hug.


‘Brel’ auditions: character info

If you’re considering auditioning for Jacques Brel — and we hope you are — here’s more on what Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. has in mind for the show. Hope to see you Feb. 26, 27 or 28! [UPDATE: An added open audition will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2. Auditions are also still available by appointment by calling Director Bob Navis Jr., 216-281-6879.] Everyone is encouraged to audition. No experience or preparation necessary! More details here. — Hans Holznagel

Character Information

“This show is a theatrical event which takes Brel’s song/stories and brings them to vivid life on the stage. We will explore new ways to interpret them….instrumentally, vocally, harmonically and theatrically. Near West’s production will feel like RENT meets Cabaret meets Moulin Rouge. It will be abstract, grungy, sexy, visually complex, stunning and haunting.

brelseasonimage13“We are looking to build a highly diverse ensemble of around 40 cast members — diverse in age, race/ethnicity, emotional range, physicality and more.

“There are more-than-usual opportunities for solo songs, solo lines, featured specialties like unicycle riding, juggling, mime, clowning, fire-eating (well maybe not fire-eating) but…surprise us with your ‘thing.’  Who knows — it might end up in the show.

“We want musician-actor-singers, too! Bring your instrument to auditions and play something for us.  Accordionists to the front of the line, along with street drummers, violinists and cellists.  Actors who sing and speak French will be pampered.

“This is a true ensemble piece especially for actors looking to do a non-conventional piece of theatre…one which deconstructs theatrical formality and spills sweat and emotion into the space, inviting the audience to ride a weeping, drunken, wild and laughing beast from beginning to end.

“Daring or ‘wannabee daring’ actor/singer/dancers ONLY need apply … he-he! (We’ll help you connect to your ‘inner daring,’ of course!)” — Bob Navis Jr.


Audition time! ‘Brel’ needs unusual range of humanity

We pride ourselves at Near West Theatre on fun, relaxed, group-oriented auditions that are open to all, regardless of experience. This time, we’re throwing it even wider open than usual and asking you to bring extra skills if you’ve got ’em:  musical instruments, unicycling, juggling, mime, clowning, French language — you name it. “Surprise us,” says Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., who is looking for a diverse and wildly passionate cast of more than 40 people, ages 16 and up, to bring Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris to the stage this May.

It may not be the world’s most frequently performed musical, but Brel has an amazing history in Cleveland, described in our January e-newsletter. As for the material and the man it’s named for, we hope you’ve been following Bob’s delightfully quirky “Brel Chronicles” in this blog. If not, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Then, grab a friend and come audition at our temporary winter home, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 1349 W. 78th St., Cleveland. It’s a white wooden church with a picket fence; use the front door on Lake Road, a couple blocks north of Detroit Avenue. Auditions are Tuesday, Feb. 26, Wednesday, Feb. 27, and Thursday, Feb. 28, starting promptly at 7:30 each evening. Pick just one of the nights and arrive at 7:15 to register. [UPDATE: An added open audition will be held Saturday, March 2, at 10:30 a.m. Also, appointments for auditions on other days may by made by calling Director Bob Navis Jr., 216-281-6879.] Rehearsals will start in March. The show will be performed nine times, May 3-19, 2013. Spread the word! Wonder what auditions are like?  Here’s footage of Bob talking to people who came to one a year ago. — Hans Holznagel

"Ragtime" audition 2012

Director Bob Navis Jr. speaks to actors who came to an audition in February 2012. Photo by Hans Holznagel