Tag Archives: jordan cooper

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.


See this goodbye, even if it’s your first hello

If you’ve never seen a show at Near West Theatre, you may wonder: Why bother with a farewell show in a third-floor church ballroom?

The cast of Move On! at a June 12 rehearsal. Photo by Mo Eutazia

Standing for justice during a June 12 Move On! rehearsal. Photo by Mo Eutazia

My advice: do bother. Go climb the stairs and see Move On!, and not just because it’s Near West’s last production ever in the St. Pat’s Club Building, 3606 Bridge Ave. Don’t even just go for the good reason that it’s a piece of Cleveland arts history: founding Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek and almost-founding Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. have shaped the show, and they join a cast of 65 in performing it in the same place where it all started back in 1978. No, see it above all because it’s fun, passionate and satisfying. It’s a mix of music, the spoken word and projected images a that form a grand, interesting, moving artistic experience. It’s about the power of theater — and this theater in particular, in this part of Cleveland — to change lives and build community.

Move On! presents Broadway and popular songs in a concert style and intersperses them with original poems, video interviews and testimonials written or voiced over the years by people who have seen and felt the impact of Near West’s mission. The production showcases the power of Near West Theatre’s process to build relationships and create great art, while also explaining its socially conscious roots and its place as an institution in an unusually rich, MOVE ON poster 4diverse, challenged, changing neighborhood. It’s embodied by a diverse cast of ordinary people ranging in age from 7 to 60, and augmented in a delightful way by video interviews and still images assembled by Assistant Technical Director Perren Hedderson.

Soloists, duos and the entire ensemble belt, croon and harmonize beautifully, backed by the strong work of assistant musical director Jordan Cooper on keyboard, drummer Rick Tyler and trumpeter Juan Ingram.

Hang around afterwards to enjoy refreshments, greet the actors, check out the many Near West artifacts displayed throughout the space by Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski, and say goodbye to St. Pat’s, even if it was your first hello. Come back one more time if you can, around 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, June 29, after the  final matinee, to join hands with the community as we encircle St. Pat’s for a brief farewell ritual. We’re moving on to a transitional half-year of theater across the street at West Side United Church of Christ and then into our new building in the Gordon Square Arts District in early 2015. With you, I hope. — Hans Holznagel

The cast, crew and staff of Move On!, pictured on June 12, 2014. Photo by Mo Eutazia

The cast, crew and staff of Move On! on June 12. Photo by Mo Eutazia


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


‘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


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.

Auditions have started for ‘Children of Eden’

Thirty-four children, teens and adults came out Tuesday evening, Aug. 21, for the first of three consecutive nights of auditions for Near West Theatre’s fall show, Children of Eden. On a stage still in transition from the summer youth hit Hairspray, the Broadway Musical, auditionees were led through a group-oriented process of improvisation, music and movement by Director Bob Navis Jr., Musical Director Jordan Cooper and Assistant Director Kelcie Dugger. All roles are open and a multiracial, multicultural cast of more than 40 is needed, so everyone — regardless of experience — is encouraged to audition. Rehearsals for those who are cast will begin Sept. 23; performances will be Nov. 16 through Dec. 2, 2012. Auditions are at 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, from 6 to 7 p.m. for ages 7 to 12 (arrive at 5:45 to register) and from 7:30 to 10 p.m. for ages 13 through adult (arrive at 7:15 to register). No preparation is necessary. See more on Near West Theatre’s audition process here.

Audition sign-in, Aug. 21, 2012

The sign-in for the first adult audition, Aug. 21, 2012. Photos by Hans Holznagel

Audition introduction, Aug. 21, 2012

Director Bob Navis Jr. (arm raised) leads introductions during the adult audition on Aug. 21, 2012.

Kids' audition, Aug. 21, 2012

Director Bob Navis Jr. speaks to kids who auditioned on Aug. 21, 2012, and their parents.

Children & ‘Eden’: things to know

An ensemble of kids will be part of this fall’s production of Children of Eden at Near West Theatre. A big musical with actors of all ages is a great place for children to meet new friends, find mentors, learn about themselves, and be part of a fun, hard-working, satisfying project. If you are a kid who wants to audition Aug. 21, 22 or 23, or if you’re the parent of one, here are a few tips.

  • Have fun and let loose. Our director, Bob Navis Jr., and musical director, Jordan Cooper, aren’t looking for professional voices or dance moves. They’re looking for real people who can listen well, loosen up, work as a team, and help tell a story with their bodies, faces and voices. There’s no right or wrong way, as long as your personality shines through. So have fun! Let your light shine!
  • Wear clothes and shoes you can move in. You will be moving all kinds of ways: spinning, crouching, reaching high, crawling on the floor. Sneakers or other comfortable shoes are fine. Leave sandals and flip-flops at home.
  • Arrive 15 minutes early. You’ll need to register before we start. If you’re 7 to 12 years old, get there at 5:45 p.m. If you’re 13 or older, arrive at 7:15 p.m. If you show up after the audition starts, you’ll have to come back another day.
  • No need to prepare anything. You will be led through singing, movement, and acting exercises in a group — and Bob and the staff will want to hear you speak up and sing out. But there’s no need to prepare a speech or song in advance. Also, you don’t have to make an appointment. Just show up, on time, at one of the three auditions.
  • If you get in the show, will you have time? Can you come to all the rehearsals in September, October and November, plus 11 performances, Nov. 18 through Dec. 2? Rehearsals are Sunday afternoons and evenings and Monday through Wednesday evenings. There’s an every-night “tech week,” Nov. 11-17, before the first weekend of performances. The show will be performed on various Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, and you’ll need to be at all of them. If any rehearsal or performance times don’t work for you, you’ll need to write down those conflicts when you come to audition.
  • Kids’ roles are ensemble roles. Children in the Children of Eden cast will have important acting and singing to do and much to learn, but as part of the larger company. The principal roles in the show — the ones with lots of lines to speak, solos to sing, etc. — are almost entirely for teens and adults. To read a list of roles, download this news release and go to Page 2.
  • Auditions have no audience. To keep everyone feeling as free and comfortable as possible, the director and his staff will be the only people in the hall with those who are auditioning. Parents who have brought a kid to audition can wait in the first-floor lobby, explore Ohio City, run errands, etc.; just please be on time to pick up your child.
  • If you’re not in the cast, don’t give up. At Near West Theatre we typically get many, many more people at auditions than we have room for in the cast. Example: for our summer production of Hairspray, 102 young people auditioned; we had a cast of just over 40. So if you audition and then get that letter saying you didn’t make it into the show, don’t be discouraged. There will be more opportunities. Consider our 2013 summer children’s theater program, Kids Loud and Musical Organic Revue, which has auditions in April. Or volunteer at performances of Children of Eden or our other shows this season.

Audition times for Children of Eden on Tuesday, Aug. 21, Wednesday, Aug. 22, and Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, are:

  • For ages 7 through 12:  6 to 7 p.m. (arrive at 5:45 to register)
  • For ages 13 through adult:  7:30 to 10 p.m. (arrive at 7:15 p.m.)

We hope to see you there!

NWT audition Sept. 6, 2011

Children work on movement with Assistant Director Kelcie Dugger at a 2011 audition for Oliver! Photo by Hans Holznagel