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In the spotlight: NWT actor Patrick Ciamacco

Patrick Ciamacco

Patrick Ciamacco

Look closely and you may recognize the leading ogre in Shrek the Musical, the first-ever main-stage show in Near West Theatre’s brand-new performance venue, opening April 24. He’s played by Patrick Ciamacco, who since 1996 has made dozens of appearances at Near West’s old Ohio City venue and on many other Cleveland-area stages. Perhaps you’ve seen him at his very own Blank Canvas Theatre, which he founded in 2011. He even played Shrek once before, in Mercury Summer Stock’s 2013 production of the musical, alongside Justin Woody, who likewise is reprising the role of Donkey at Near West.

Patrick with Katie Klaus in The Baker's Wife (2002)

Patrick with Katie Klaus in The Baker’s Wife at Near West (2002)

Patrick and buddy Joe Kenderes came in from suburban Brunswick to audition for Near West’s youth production of South Pacific in 1996. It was the start of a long relationship with Near West, where both of them have performed many times since and where Patrick has also directed and assisted in other capacities over the years.

Patrick as Che Guevara in NWT's producton of Evita (2002)

As Che Guevara in Evita (2002)

“I remember walking up to St. Pat’s for that first audition and not being sure if we were in the right place,” Patrick says. “When we got upstairs, I was scared, thinking, ‘There are so many teens here.’ I ended up getting cast in the ensemble and had no idea it would change my life like it did: performing in so many shows, directing, working with some amazing kids, and now seeing those kids all grown up. It has brought so many friends and ‘family’ into my life.”

As one of the four narrators in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2004), with, from left Kristy Cruz, Trinidad Snider, Carlos Cruz, and Ralph Pack as Jacob

As one of the four narrators in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2004), with, from left, Kristy Cruz, Trinidad Snider, Carlos Cruz, and Ralph Pack as Jacob

Patrick graduated from Brunswick High School in 1998 and recently became the youngest inductee into its Alumni Hall of Fame. He now lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, close to Near West’s new Gordon Square theater and Blank Canvas’ West 78th Street venue, where he spends long hours. “I love that I can produce smaller musical and non-musical shows there that can also provide entertainment and community outreach. We are about to open Extremities, a searing play about an attempted rape and its aftermath as the victim turns the tables on her attacker. It explores themes that are part of a national conversation about domestic abuse, rape and assault. We’ve even partnered with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. They’ll be doing talk-backs after some of our shows.”

As Mr. Bumble in Oliver! (2011), with Skipper Rankin as Oliver and Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Bumble

As the Beadle in Oliver! (2011), with Skipper Rankin as Oliver and Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Bumble

He answered an e-mail in the middle of the night, in a week filled with Near West rehearsals and Blank Canvas tech, to answer three questions about Shrek the Musical. It’s on stage April 24 through May 17 at 6702 Detroit Ave. Tickets are available online or by calling 216-961-6891, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

1. What’s unique about Near West’s take on Shrek the Musical? The actors and staff who are telling the story. The process of developing any production at Near West Theatre allows the cast to really put themselves into the story: their experiences, their feelings, their heart. You’ll see that on this wonderful new stage. All of them, from the Donkey to the Gingerbread Cookie, are pouring their souls into the show.

2. What’s the greatest challenge in playing the role of Shrek? Living up to the expectations people have while still exploring the role from an actor’s point of view. It’s a character we all know and love. My goal is to put my own nuances into the role while balancing what the audience comes expecting to see and hear. I don’t want to reinvent Shrek. Kids, especially, want to see the green ogre they have watched over and over again. The smile on their faces after a show is better than anything.

3. What kind of an era do you hope you’re helping to launch with this first show ever in this brand-new venue? This show is a giant fairy tale. It quite possibly could be one of the largest shows NWT has ever done. Ogres, donkeys, dragons, castles — it’s huge! This show will bring in the era of Broadway-esque spectacle and magic that this neighborhood has not yet ever seen.

— Hans Holznagel

As Harold Hill, with Joe Kenders as Marcellus, in The Music Man (2006)

As Harold Hill, with Joe Kenderes as Marcellus, in The Music Man (2006)

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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 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.

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Come to our outdoor stage Saturday, June 9

Free public performances in the afternoon and a free public “open mic” in the evening will be featured on the Near West Theatre Stage at Discover Gordon Square Arts District Day, this Saturday, June 9, 2012. The stage will be under a tent along West 67th Street just north of Detroit Avenue (near the festival’s beer garden), on the future site of the theater’s new performance center. A picnic next to the tent will offer hot dogs and the “cornhole” bag-toss game. Afternoon stage performances, in 20-minute segments on the hour and half-hour, will include excerpts from recent Near West Theatre musical productions and performances by young NWT actors and alumni. DJ Karluis will fill in the gaps with danceable tunes. The evening open mic, from 7 to 9 p.m., will feature Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. accompanying on the piano. He’ll have Broadway and pop collections, or bring your own sheet music to sing from; or read a poem or accompany yourself on guitar. The schedule below features Jordan Cooper as musical director and accompanist from 2 to 6 p.m. and Bob Navis Jr. in the evening.

[SCHEDULE CORRECTED 6/5/12: We had inadvertently left out the “Into the Woods” segment! And corrected again 6/6/12: Molly’s now at 4:30 and Luke at 5:30.]

2:00 p.m.: Selections from Ragtime, the Musical. Performers include Geoff Short, Nikki Sumlin, Hans Holznagel, Skipper Rankin and Winter Castro. Selections include “Gliding,” “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes.”

2:30: Solos by NWT actor Mariah Burks. A veteran of NWT’s children’s, youth and intergenerational shows who will be appearing in this summer’s production of Hairspray, the Broadway Musical, Mariah is a student at Bowling Green State University.

3:00: Selections from Oliver! Performers include Jeffrey Braun, Faith Green, Jonas Kukelhan, Skipper Rankin, Winter Castro, Edwin Smith, Gwen Stembridge, Perren Hedderson and Kelcie Dugger. Selections include “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” “Where is Love,” “Who Will Buy?”

3:30: Selections from Miss Saigon. Performers include Anthony Williams, Izzy Sansom and Mariah Burks. Selections include “I Still Believe” and “Bui-Doi.”

4:00:  DJ break. Picnic continues while DJ Karluis cranks dance tunes under the tent.

4:30: Performance by Molly Andrews-Hinders. A veteran of NWT children’s, youth and intergenerational shows and a theater graduate of Wright State University, Molly is an actor (currently appearing in Cleveland Public Theatre’s Akarui), playwright and stage manager.

5:00: Selections from Ragtime, the Musical. Same program as 2:00.

5:30:  Solos by Luke Wehner. Luke’s NWT credits include The Who’s TommyThe Secret Garden and Rent.

6:00: Selections from Into the Woods.  Performers include Patrick Ciamacco, Joe Kenderes, Luke Wehner, Kelcie Dugger, Faith Green, Jonas Kukelhan, Skipper Rankin and Winter Castro. Selections include “Agony,” “Giants in the Sky” and “Children Will Listen.”

6:30:  Original music by Perren Hedderson, Noah Hrbek and Alexis Hedderson. Perren is NWT’s Assistant Technical Director. All three performers are veterans of NWT’s children’s, youth and intergenerational shows.

7:00 to 9:00 p.m.: Open mic! The featured act is you! All are welcome to take a try at our open mic. NWT Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. will accompany all comers. Bring your own sheet music for him to play, or make a selection from a few Broadway and pop collections he’ll have on had. Or accompany yourself on guitar. Poetry readings are also welcome. Or, of course, bring your own coffee, relax under the tent and listen. Invited performers you might see at the mic include comedian Matt Allard, poet Autumn Smith, and singers/actors Kelcie Dugger, Mo Eutazia, CoCo Smith and Xavier Reminick.


‘Ragtime,’ its mothers and Mother’s Day

Skipper Rankin (Little Boy) and Ryann Angelotti (Mother) in Near West Theatre’s May 2012 production of Ragtime. (Photo by Laura Carlson Tarantowski)

Theirs are beautiful, poignant stories, two of many that intertwine in Ragtime. One character, known simply as Mother, is part of the wealthy, white establishment in New Rochelle, N.Y., 100 years ago. As her husband goes to sea she wishes for a journey of her own. A jarring circumstance arises in her own backyard, she makes a courageous choice, and we see her engage a changing world with grace, anxiety, good humor and resolve. By the time of Mother’s Act II solo, actor Ryann Angelotti has literally let her hair down to sing “We Can Never Go Back to Before.” The other character, Sarah, from Harlem’s African American community, faces more severe challenges, including a crisis pregnancy. She too musters courage as she comes to terms with her role as a mother and discerns whether to reunite with her child’s father. Actor Nicole Sumlin gives bittersweet voice to Sarah’s struggle in her Act I solo, “Your Daddy’s Son.” And there are others: Harry Houdini’s mother (played by Sarah Michalski) appears briefly, but lives on mystically in her famous son’s mind. Immigrant mothers appear and move on, babies in arms.

Join us on Mother’s Day for the 3 p.m. performance of Ragtime on Sunday, May 13. It’s only $8. Tickets are available weekdays at 216-961-6391 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Or you can order online here. Our advance-sales box office is closed weekends, but any remaining tickets are available at the door starting one hour before show time at our performance space, 3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland. There are also six other performances between May 10 and 20:  see all the dates here.

Nicole Sumlin (Sarah) in Near West Theatre’s May 2012 production of Ragtime. (Photo by Terry Schordock)