Tag Archives: laura carlson tarantowski

‘Superstar’ artwork’s ready. Now we need you!

JCS publicity imageIt’s exciting every year: Fall auditions are almost here. You know things are getting real when the production staff starts meeting and the first artwork appears. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. and staff designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski have come up with an evocative, beautifully designed publicity image for our coming production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s an electric-blue version of Da Vinci’s Vetruvian man overlaid with ominous crosshairs and crowned with a line from the show, “To conquer death, you only have to die.” Together with the style of lettering, the image suggests a kind of ancient-medieval-contemporary continuum, as well as the tension inherent in the story as Jesus of Nazareth is celebrated one moment and targeted the next.

Now we need you! As noted at the show’s web page and in an earlier blog post, we’re planning an unusual production of this king of rock operas, taking full advantage of the 160-year-old West Side United Church of Christ sanctuary where it will be staged. We need a large, diverse cast of people of all ages, 7 and up, and all levels of acting experience, including no experience at all! Auditions are on the evenings of Sept. 2, 3 and 4. All are encouraged to give it a try; no advance registration is necessary. Consider joining our audition event page on Facebook and inviting other Facebook friends.

If the stage isn’t calling you but you want to get involved, there are plenty of opportunities. We’ll need backstage and tech volunteers who can commit to the last couple of weeks of rehearsal in November and then to every performance, Nov. 21 through Dec. 7. Call Kelcie Dugger at 216-961-9750 if you’re interested. We’ll also need the usual army of volunteers in the box office, concession stand, gift shop, and house, and people to bake goodies and pop popcorn. For those jobs, you can volunteer one night, several times, or for the whole run of the show. To express interest in that, chime in at our Near West Theatre Volunteers Facebook page or send an e-mail to volunteer coordinator Kim Flaherty at volunteers.NWT@gmail.com. And don’t forget about tickets! They’re available online anytime or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. –– Hans Holznagel


Near West Theatre is grateful for ongoing programmatic 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.


Near West Theatre’s community theater production of


Lyrics by Tim Rice       Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

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.


Help us get the theater ready on Sat., Oct. 26

Hot pizza, cold pop and that warm feeling of having made a difference: they’re all benefits of showing up for an hour or the whole afternoon of Near West Theatre’s Community Work Day on Saturday, Oct. 26. We need your help preparing the theater for A Christmas Story, the Musical, which will be in tech rehearsals before you know it.

Molly Andrews-Hinders and Jason Dugger worked on a coffin and other set pieces at the 2011 Community Work Day. Photos by Mo Eutazia.

Molly Andrews-Hinders and Jason Dugger worked on a coffin and other set pieces at the 2011 Community Work Day. Photos by Mo Eutazia.

No special skills are needed. Just show up, sign in and work side-by-side with Technical Director Josh Padgett, Assistant Technical Director Perren Hedderson, Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski and other members of the production staff to get things organized for the show. At an NWT work day you never know till you show up exactly what work is needed. You might paint, sew, organize costumes and props, or just move things around. But you’ll definitely get lunch on us (if you’re not too late!) and get that great experience of being part of the community that makes our art and mission happen. Join us at our St. Pat’s performance site, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland. — Hans Holznagel

Roxy Reminick (left) and Katie Medvec (center) were on patch-sewing, costume-organizing duty in 2011.

Roxy Reminick (left) and Katie Medvec (center) sewed patches and organized costumes in 2011.

Sam Utterback immersed herself in set-piece painting in 2011.

Sam Utterback immersed herself in set-piece painting in 2011.


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


A Christmas Story, the Musical

Musical by Joseph Robinette, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul,

 based upon A Christmas Story © 1983 Turner Entertainment Co., distributed by Warner Bros., written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark, and on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.

A Christmas Story, the Musical, is produced by special arrangement with THE DRAMATIC PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., of Woodstock, Illinois. Produced with permission of Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc.

Staff news: a warm welcome

In a time of multiple transitions at Near West Theatre, including one to a new space, the need for financial efficiency, a strong business model, new operational systems and expanded programming has never been greater. As part of this, we welcome three new staff members: Don Carlson, Ryan Wolf and Laura Carlson Tarantowski. We’ve added three positions and yet reduced our overall budget by creatively pooling production and administrative dollars for the assistant production manager and designer positions. “We are happy to welcome these professionals,” said Executive Director Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek. “Their presence and hard work will strengthen our programming capacity while also simplifying and adding efficiency to the theater’s creative side.” Here are notes on the three and their roles.

Don Carlson, Finance Director Image

Financial management is always an important priority, and especially so in transitional times. The new position of finance director was created in May to focus on financial analysis, planning and measurements. Retired business and nonprofit executive Don Carlson, a certified public accountant, is now in our office about three days a week. His projects include updating our business plan, monitoring our budget and financials, recommending fund investments for increased earnings, preparing for our annual audit, and, based on years of past audits, documenting our strong stewardship of funds received. A graduate of Kent State University, Don has 45 years of business experience in the Cleveland area, having most recently served as chief financial officer and treasurer of Vocational Guidance Services for more than 10 years. Don has a long history of volunteerism in the community and has served on the boards of directors of a number of community organizations and nonprofit,s including the Beck Center for the Arts. He and his wife, Jenean, live in Lakewood.

Ryan Wolf, Assistant Production Manager Image

With Technical Director/Production Manager Josh Padgett increasingly called upon for his construction expertise during preparations for our future home, we have engaged Ryan Wolf as assistant production manager. Ryan will serve as stage manager for all our main stage productions as well as our annual benefit, pARTy in Gordon Square and other off-site performances. He also assists with theater set-up and tear-down and provides much-needed help in carpentry and other areas. Ryan is from North Olmsted, Ohio. He graduated this year from Wright State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in theatre design and technology with an emphasis in stage management. He was stage manager for Near West Theatre’s Hairspray (2012) and has worked on over a dozen shows elsewhere, including the Dayton Opera’s Romeo & Juliet and Lucia de Lammermoor and the Human Race Theatre Company’s Oliver! and Next to Normal.

Laura Carlson Tarantowski, Designer Image

In a step that streamlines our design resources, Laura Carlson Tarantowski has joined the staff in the part-time capacity of designer. The new position combines what Laura was doing under more than 11 contracts a year in the past, including such varied work as set design for main stage shows and for KLAMOR, poster and postcard artwork, and artistic renderings for the exterior of our future home. Our current production of Side Show is her 14th collaboration with the team at Near West Theatre. Her scenic design has been seen extensively on Cleveland-areas stages, including recently in The Lyons at Dobama Theatre and The Turn of the Screw at Baldwin Wallace University. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from Brenau University, a Master of Fine Arts in set design from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and over 20 years of professional experience designing and painting shows. — Julie Cajigas

That wacky ‘Hairspray’ poster

We love our publicity images at Near West Theatre, and the crazy-colorful one below for Hairspray, the Broadway Musical — opening Friday, July 20 — is an exceptionally good example. Director Bob Navis Jr. and Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski came up with the concept.  Photographer Geoff Short took lively face shots of the actors, with makeup by Heather Brown (and assistance from her husband, Nick), against a plain white background in our costume room.  Laura then designed and produced the entire image, including the over-the-top, graphically added hairdos and headgear and the words, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” the title of one of the show’s musical numbers.  Ann Palotta Nagin used the image as the centerpiece of our publicity poster, postcard and fliers, which are now up in West Side windows and arriving in mailboxes. Versions of the image also appear at our Facebook page and website. You’ll see a black-and-white version on the playbill when you come to the show.

Pictured (left to right) are, top row, Oliver Deak as Corny Collins, Mariah Burks as Motormouth Maybelle, Anna Kukelhan as Prudy Pingleton; middle row, Jordan Cooper (also the show’s musical director) as Edna Turnblad, Jacqueline Uhlik as Tracy Turnblad, Perren Hedderson as Wilbur Turnblad; bottom row, Justin Woody as Seaweed Stubbs, Becca Frick as Velma Von Tussle, and Hayden Neidhardt as Little Inez.

Advance tickets are available online anytime or by phoning 216-961-6391 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., during which hours you can also stop by our business office, 6514 Detroit Ave., and purchase in person. Any remaining tickets will be sold starting at 6:30 p.m. at the ticket table at our performance space, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 20, and Saturday, July 21, as we kick off an eight-performance run through Aug. 5. See performance times and show info at this page at our website.

"Hairspray" poster 2012

Director Bob Navis Jr., photographer Geoff Short, and, mostly, designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski came up with the publicity image for Hairspray, running July 20 through Aug. 5, 2012.