The term “family musical” has an added meaning at Near West Theatre this spring. The cast of Shrek the Musical, running now through May 17, includes the entire Pantalone family: parents Sam and Christene (CC) and sons Jacob, 14, and Phil, 11. This is Jacob’s first time on the Near West stage with the other three, who appeared together in A Christmas Story, the Musical (2013), in which Phil played Randy and Sam played Jean Shepard; the ensemble show Move On! (2014), in which CC had a major solo; and the casts of two Annual Benefits. Phil was also in Once on This Island Jr. (2014).
If you saw the Ted Sikora documentary Move On! in this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival, you heard Sam, CC and Phil describe what draws them to Near West: its energy, its strong shows, and the way it invites unusually diverse actors into a process of building community, making art and tackling challenging subject matter. We asked the family three questions (see below) as they recuperated after Shrek’s tech week and opening weekend, which inaugurated Near West Theatre’s new building in the Gordon Square Arts District on April 24 and 25. They discussed the questions as a family; their collective answers are below.
At this writing, tickets are still available for most remaining performances of Shrek the Musical, though some have sold out. Consider buying in advance, and soon: online anytime, or by calling 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
— Hans Holznagel
1. What are your tricks for making the daily work-school-dinner-theater transition? It is a real challenge. It typically means shifting when and where we do things and often involves more fast food than we would care to admit. We sometimes eat in the car on the way to rehearsal, homework might come with us to be done in the theatre. We also have a short family devotion each night before bed where we read and then pray together as a family. Jacob’s job has been to remember to bring the devotion book with us so we can read it in the car on the drive home. That has also allowed us to include some of our NWT family at times when they may be with us. We love the experience of being in a show together so we find ways to make it work. Tech week however did involve one day where we allowed our exhausted boys to stay home from school and sleep.
2. What do you like about having all four of you in the show? There are so many activities that kids can be involved in where the parent contribution is just providing transportation and support. Doing a show together gives us an avenue to get to know each other in different ways while experiencing the creative process and also to experience personal growth, together. Phil says when he does a show the music allows him to feel different emotions and to discover another side of himself that we then all get to be a part of. As parents it is nice because we are there when those things happen and don’t have to try to understand something he may have done of felt when he attempts to explain it later. We also know that before we realize it our kids will be grown and moving to another phase in their life. The memories we are building now will be something we will always cherish. Spending the kind of time it takes to do a show, all of us engaged in the same process, is really an amazing thing. Between work, school, friends, video games and all the other parts of daily living, we are incredibly blessed to be able to devote so many hours to an activity as a family.
3. How would you compare and contrast your family with the larger Near West Theatre “family”? We truly do consider NWT to be a family and we have enjoyed inviting them into our family. As Sam mentioned in the Move On! documentary it allows us to be closely involved with a far more diverse group of people than we would normally be and certainly helps all of us to grow as people. The family extends beyond just being in shows together. In the past year some of us got together to see the movie The Sound of Music then enjoyed eating together at a themed party afterwards. At Christmastime we invited everyone to our home for a gingerbread house making party.
Something that means more to our family than we can ever express is how the Near West Theatre family has embraced Jacob. Jacob has autism and along with that come many challenges. Before Shrek Jacob typically watched rehearsals for other shows and we could not have dreamed of a more loving, accepting and understanding group. He is thrilled to be able to join us on stage and that would not have been possible without the NWT staff being willing to take the risk of allowing him to join the cast. It has not been easy, and several times in the rehearsal process CC was convinced that we should drop the idea. His involvement on stage would absolutely not have been possible without the incredible assistance of Jenn White. Jenn has become like another member of our family and she took on the task of being Jacob’s partner on stage. We love you Jenn!
Having our family be part of the Near West family is an experience that continues to shape us in many ways and we are so happy we have found each other!
Near West Theatre’s 2015 opening events, including Shrek the Musical, are presented by Thompson Hine and its subsidiary, PMC. 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.