Tag Archives: spring show

In the spotlight: the Pantalone Family

Christene (CeCe) Pantalone in Move On! (2014). Production still by Ted Sikora

Christene (CC) Pantalone soloing in Move On! (2014). Production still by Ted Sikora

Sam Pantalone as Jean Shepard in A Christmas Story, the Musical (2013). Photo by Terry Schordock

Sam Pantalone as Jean Shepard in A Christmas Story, the Musical (2013). Photo by Terry Schordock

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).

Jacob Pantalone with Jennifer White during a rehearsal for Shrek the Musical, April 22, 2015. Photo by Terry Shordock

Jacob Pantalone with Jenn White during a rehearsal for Shrek the Musical, April 22, 2015. Photo by Terry Shordock

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.

Jacob and Christene Pantalone in the Capitol Theatre lobby at the premiere of the documentary Move On!, March 22, 2015. Photo by Ted Sikora

Jacob and CC Pantalone in the Capitol Theatre lobby at the premiere of the documentary Move On!, March 22, 2015. Photo by Ted Sikora

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!

Phil Pantalone (Randy) during the bows in A Christmas Story, the Musical (2013). Photo by Terry Schordock

Phil Pantalone takes a bow in A Christmas Story, the Musical (2013). Photo by Terry Schordock

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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.


The moment has come. Excuse us while we get emotional.

This view of our Nov. 27 groundbreaking ceremony graces the cover of our 2012 year-end appeal card. Photo by Gregory Wilson

“We Claim this Ground” ceremony at our theater site, Nov. 27, 2012. Photo by Gregory Wilson

Emotions. You’re not supposed to overdo them on stage or even “do” them at all, depending on your method. “You can’t act an emotion,” the saying goes. Acting is action: wanting something and doing something to get it. You’re supposed to find your character’s intention, be in your body, be alert, be in the moment, connect with the actors around you — and act, passionately! If emotion is present, that’s okay. Characters are people; people have emotions. But feelings are never the main thing you’re playing. You’ve got actions to take, a story to tell. So goes the wisdom.

Theater under construction a year ago, April 23, 2014. Photo by Hans Holznagel.

Theater under construction a year ago, April 23, 2014. Photo by Hans Holznagel.

Pardon us for a moment, then, while we get emotional. It’s tech week — always filled with all kinds of emotions! — but we need to say a word to mark this particular opening week, this once-in-a-lifetime moment Near West Theatre. We’ve been doing musical theater since 1978 as a way of building community and transforming lives — in rented space. We started searching for a home of our own in 1999, shortly after we became an independent nonprofit. And now — how do we say this with enough gravity and celebration? — IT’S HERE: Grand Opening Night! On Friday, April 24, in true, grand, Near West Theatre style, an affordable-price-paying audience will be seated in our brand new theater at 6702 Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Arts District. At 7:30, a cast of more than 60 children, teens and adults — ordinary people, all volunteers, from many races and backgrounds — will take the stage in Shrek the Musical. When that happens, well, forgive us if we shed a tear of joy. It won’t be the first time. We’ve been feeling it all winter and spring: on Feb. 13, when we got our certificate of occupancy and wandered around in awe of this roomy, comfortable, accessible space of our own; on Feb. 28, during our Community Open House; on March 14, with a Dance Party that filled the place with fun energy; on March 21, as we held our Annual Benefit and Gala in our own home for the first time ever; on March 22, as Move On!, a documentary about us, debuted in the Cleveland International Film Festival. Truth be told, we’ve also been getting a huge musical up all the while, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to get emotional.

Our new building as it appeared on April 14, 2015. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Our new building at sunrise on April 14, 2015. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Imagine, though, how it will feel this Friday to see an opening-night curtain go up for the first time in this new space. For those who’ve been on this journey the longest, we predict a weepy mix of nostalgia and hope: bittersweet memories of those no longer with us and how proud they would be. Giddiness as we reflect on the potential we face in a new building, in a new neighborhood, with partners new and old. Melting, weak-kneed being-in-love with the astounding variety of people who continue to create our art, individually and collectively, onstage and backstage: the hues of the faces, the shapes of the bodies, the timbres of the voices, and the humanity and commitment that all of them bring to the task. Breathlessness at the always-beautiful visual and aural art of our production staff, now amplified by fly space and new technical capacities.

Gratitude is perhaps the deepest among our emotions right now. Gratitude to the generous donors to the Gordon Square Arts District capital campaign, which built this building and so much more. Head-shaking amazement at the tireless leadership of Gordon Square’s Board and staff and the courageous, visionary toughness of our partners in that journey: Cleveland Public Theatre, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Councilman Matt Zone. Memories, pleasant and otherwise, of the struggles we all faced together, even surviving a Great Recession in the middle of that campaign. Indebtedness to decades of sacrifice and support from Near West Theatre’s own Trustees and supporters, who now lead us into a continued future of musical theater that matters.

It is all about action, isn’t it? Thirty-seven years of action and intention. Wanting something, trying to get it, connecting with actors around you. Thank you for acting with us, all of you, longtime Near West Theatre family members and partners and newcomers alike. Wherever you are — behind the curtain, in the wings, in the audience — dab those tears and take a deep breath. “Places!” — Hans Holznagel

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"Shrek the Musical" production image 2015Opening night is now sold out, but plenty of tickets are available for the remaining performances of Shrek the Musical through May 17. Purchase online or call 216-961-6391 weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Any tickets not sold in advance are available at the door starting one hour before show time. A reserved Star Seat, which helps support Near West Theatre’s art and mission and comes with additional benefits, is $20. General admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children.

TH_Logo_rev_300dpiNear West Theatre is grateful to its 2015 Presenting Sponsor, Thompson Hine, and to many other generous season sponsors; 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.


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.


‘Shrek the Musical’ to feature 68 adults, teens, kids

Page-7 of 2015 BrochureSixty-eight children, teens and adults have been cast in Shrek the Musical, the first production ever to be staged in Near West Theatre’s new performance center in the Gordon Square Arts District. The show runs April 24 through May 17 in the new theater, still being completed at 6702 Detroit Ave. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office, 216-961-6391, weekdays between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. A cast list appears below.

A remarkable 134 people auditioned — 128 of them Jan. 20-22, plus six more by special arrangement during Jan. 24 call-backs. That left Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., who will direct the show, Assistant Director Kelcie Dugger, and Executive Director Stephanie Morrison Hrbek, choreographer, with an abundance of choices. It also left them with the always-difficult task of sending “regrets” notices Jan. 29 to dozens of those who auditioned, including some who have been in past shows but won’t be in this one.

“We want everyone to know how grateful we are that they turned out,” Navis said. “Our auditions are events unto themselves. Having such diverse groups of participants engaged on on all three nights was important to the process. We hope everyone got something out of it, whether or not they were chosen for this cast.”

A Jan. 30 view of the new theater still under construction. Photo by Hans Holznagel

A Jan. 30 view of the new theater, still under construction. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Rehearsals start Feb. 15, but not yet in the space where the show will be performed. Near West Theatre expects to receive its Certificate of Occupancy for the new theater in early February and to begin moving its offices and theatrical equipment into the building the same week that rehearsals start off site. The public is invited to get a first look at the space during a free Community Open House on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 28. Shrek rehearsals will move there sometime in March. — Hans Holznagel

Cast of Shrek The Musical, Near West Theatre, Spring 2015

Specific roles cast so far — Patrick Ciamacco (Shrek), Cassandra Mears (Princess Fiona), Justin Woody (Donkey), Kevin Joseph Kelly (Lord Farquaad), Gus Mahoney (Pinocchio). Ensemble — Charles Adams, Felix Albino, Neha Arjunji, Connie Becker, Angie Bendahan, Sara Danielle Chapman, William Crosby, Delaney Cunningham, Sharron DeCosta, Cole Emerine, Nadia Evans, Micah Evans, Sydney Fieseler, Warren Franklin, Venchise Glenn, Lindsay Hajostek, Corinne Howery, Sophie Hull, Angelise Irizarry, Bethy Jarus, Rachel Johanek, Louis Johnson II, Meg Kilbane, Bryen Kilbane, Richard Knight, Mike Knobloch, Madeline Krucek, Britt Lamoureux, Christine Larson, Giovanna Layne, Elliot Lockshine, Cory Markowitz, Maureen Martin, Amaya Moore, Kevin Myers, Cara Myers, Yumi Ndhlovu, Sophie O’Leary, Finn O’Malia, Dawon Owens, Sam Pantalone, Christene Pantalone, Jacob Pantalone, Phil Pantalone, Jocelyn Perkins, Aaron Phillips, Statia Rankin, Yousef Raslan, Eric Reising, Lucia Robbins, Angel Svacool, Erich Schnack, Michael Stolar, Cole Tarantowski, David Turner, Kyanie Vazquez, Rafael Velez III, Colin Wheeler, Jennifer White, Anthony Williams, Morgan Williams, Calista Zajac, Bob Zombar.

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Shrek the Musical

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Based on the DreamWorks Animation Motion Picture and the book by William Steig

Shrek the Musical is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. 421 West 54th St., New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-541-4684. Fax: 212-397-4684. http://www.MTIShows.com

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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. A version of this article was also featured in the January 2015 edition of Near West Theatre’s monthly e-newsletter, The Near West Circle.


Make history: audition for the 1st show in our brand-new theater

Shrek the Musical, with book and lyrics by David Limndsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, will be onstage April 24--May 17.

Shrek the Musical, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, will be the first-ever main-stage show at Near West Theatre’s performance center at Gordon Square, April 24–May 17, 2015.

It will be a year of firsts as we open our new theater in the Gordon Square Arts District, featuring fly space above the stage, new lighting and sound equipment, and all kinds of theatrical possibilities we’ve never had before. The first of those firsts is this month: auditions for Shrek the Musical, on Tuesday, Jan. 20, Wednesday, Jan. 21, and Thursday, Jan. 22, at 6 p.m. for ages 7 through 12 and at 7:30 p.m. for teens and adults of all ages. Full details about our friendly, fun audition process — no experience or preparation necessary! — are at the end of this article. (Note: the new building is still being completed, so auditions will be elsewhere!)

“It’s the opening show in our brand-new building, and we are looking to cast a large, racially diverse ensemble — more than people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, sizes and physical abilities and challenges,” says Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., who will direct Shrek. “There are multiple principal roles, and the company plays a large range of characters, from fairy-tale creatures to an angry mob, guards, rats, knights and much more. There are huge production numbers throughout the show. This will be true ensemble theater.” All roles are open.

“I can’t emphasize enough that this will be the first giant musical in our new, $7.3 million building,” Navis says. “For the first time in our history we have a fly system over the stage, a pipe grid above the house with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, even a scene shop so we don’t have to build set pieces on stage during the rehearsal process.” For 36 years at Near West Theatre’s rented church ballroom, casts were accustomed to cramped conditions backstage, and, with unreliable heat and no air conditioning, a lot of discomfort during hot or cold weather. Now there will be wing space and a changing area backstage, a multipurpose room downstairs for more changing and green-room space, and cast rest rooms that don’t have to be shared with the audience. And full climate control in a super-energy-efficient building. And space for more multiple rehersals at once. “I really hope all of that — in addition to the content and story line of the show — will inspire people to audition.”

Based on the 2001 DreamWorks film Shrek and William Steig’s 1990 book Shrek!, the musical is a good match for Near West Theatre’s mission of bringing together diverse people from all walks of life — and from all levels of theatrical experience, including none at all — to encounter each other and build relationships around a piece of theater. The story involves an ogre, a donkey, an imprisoned princess and a gang of fairytale creatures exiled from their home for being freaks. With music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, the show ran for over a year each on Broadway and in London’s West End and also had an extensive national U.S. tour.

If you’re intrigued but not sure about auditioning — perhaps you’ve never auditioned for anything before — know that Near West Theatre’s process is designed to be friendly, inviting, and low in anxiety, whether you’re 7 or 77 years old. Participants are led as a group through exercises to build teamwork, experience movement, improvise, sing and let their best selves shine. Bob and his production staff look less for trained singers and dancers than for a person’s spark, willingness to go on an emotional journey, and interest in engaging the people around them as part of an ensemble. Below are audition details a few recent videos about the audition experience. — Hans Holznagel

Audition information for Shrek the Musical, 2015

Place: West Side United Church of Christ, 3800 Bridge Ave., Cleveland 44113. Ages eligible: 7 through adult. Dates: Tuesday, Jan. 20; Wednesday, Jan. 21; Thursday, Jan. 22. Pick one of those evenings. No advance reservations necessary. Stay for the entire time for your age group. Times: Ages 7 through 12, arrive 5:45 p.m. to register; audition 6 to 7 p.m. Ages 13 through adult, arrive 7:15 p.m. to register, audition 7:30 to 10 p.m. Rehearsals for those who are cast begin Feb. 15 and will typically be Sunday afternoons, Sunday evenings, and Monday through Wednesday evenings. Performance dates are listed here.

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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, 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.

—–

Shrek the Musical

Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Based on the DreamWorks Animation Motion Picture and the book by William Steig

Shrek the Musical is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. 421 West 54th St., New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-541-4684. Fax: 212-397-4684. http://www.MTIShows.com

 


Near West Theatre has left the building

Fr. Mark Dinardo of St. Patrick's Church offers thanks and best wishes to NWT before the final performance June 29. NWT Founder Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek holds the mike. Photo by Hans Holznagel

Fr. Mark Dinardo of St. Patrick’s Church offers thanks and best wishes to Near West before the final performance June 29. NWT Founder Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek holds the mike. Photos by Hans Holznagel

A downpour started near the end of the final performance of Move On! Sunday afternoon and caused a planned outdoor farewell gathering to be moved inside the St. Pat’s Club Building. We didn’t get to join hands in a circle around St. Pat’s to say goodbye to the building that has been our home since 1978, but perhaps it’s just as well. The hundreds of people who instead formed a “messy circle” indoors, spanning the stage, the floor and the risers, were a lovely mosaic from over the years: The cast, crew and staff of Move On! Father Mark Dinardo of St. Patrick’s Church. Gordon Square Arts District leaders and longtime NWT supporters Dick and Pat Pogue and Tom and Sandy Sullivan. Actors from every decade of past productions — longtime participants like Joanie Hoover, arguably NWT’s poet laureate. Parents and families of the Move On! cast. Volunteers from the house that day. And members of the community who simply answered the public call to show up for the post-show farewell moment. Young, old, participant, supporter, hand in hand, arm over shoulder — there couldn’t have been a moment that was more “NWT” in style, and maybe especially because it was indoors on a muggy, sweaty June afternoon.

A lovely litany written by Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr., which he led with founding Executive Director and choreographer Stephanie Morrison Hrbek — complete with the chant, “Ho, ho, hey, hey, Near West Theatre moves on today”– was a fitting tribute of well wishes and blessings upon the building that will forever contain memories of 36 years of relationships and art.

Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek leads the Move On! cast in a warmup before Near West's last-ever performance at St. Pat's.

Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek leads the Move On! cast in a warmup before Near West’s last-ever performance at St. Pat’s.

But it was really a coda to what had already functioned as the major blessing of the day: An off-the-hook grand finale of Move On!, a high-energy collection of music, big-screen projection and spoken word that somehow went to a new level in its ninth performance. The cast might understandably have gone all weepy, given how much this place has meant to everyone involved. But something else happened instead. To be sure, there were tears shed on stage, and there was nothing fake about them. But mostly, from the downbeat of “Merrily We Roll Along” to the company exit on “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” you could tell everyone onstage was in the zone: giving and receiving energy from each other, improvising within a well designed structure, nourished by (and returning) the appreciation given them by an audience that stood, shouted, joined in when invited, and interrupted the performance with applause like never before — in a run that had already featured remarkably appreciative audiences. That’s what happens when community is built on stage in each production, and when connections with the wider community are built over the years. That’s Near West Theatre.

The Move On! reaches skyward before the last show ever at St. Pat's.

The Move On! cast reaches skyward before the last show ever at St. Pat’s.

Another downpour is no doubt happening as this post is being written. It’s the last hour of the last farewell cast-crew-staff gift circle on a stage that has seen dozens and dozens of them. Tears of release, sadness, gratitude and love are the stuff of these goodbye circles, where folks who have seen way too much of each other for many, many weeks now realize it’s suddenly over. This group knows it has the added task of saying goodbye in behalf of hundreds and hundreds of participants, each of whom has left a bit of his or her spirit embedded in the floorboards and wafting through the ether of the third-floor ballroom of the St. Pat’s Club Building. Whether or not they’re conscious of it, they and the wider community that gathered there today will be the ones to carry a large measure of that spirit into the future — first in our fall 2014 production at West Side United Church of Christ (soon to be announced) and then, in 2015, in our new theater now under construction in the Gordon Square Arts District.

For now, though, Near West Theatre has left the building. Long live the memories and legacies of the St. Pat’s years. — 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, 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.


Join hands June 29 in a farewell circle of love around St. Pat’s

NWT-2013-14-Brochure-CoverThis is it. Our last week of performances at the St. Pat’s Club Building, our home of 36 years, has arrived. Will you join us in saying a communal goodbye to this grand old place? Sunday, June 29, at about 4:45 p.m., after the final matinée of Move On!, you’re invited to join an outdoor community circle around our beloved building at 3606 Bridge Avenue. Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. is creating a brief farewell ritual in which we’ll join hands and raise voices to say goodbye to this place where so many lives have been touched, so many relationships formed, so much passion shared.

You’re encouraged to join the circle (it’s a free, public event) even if you’re not in the audience that day, though we do hope you’ll help us fill the house Thursday through Sunday. Tickets for shows at 7:30 p.m. June 26, 27 and 28, and 3 p.m. June 29, are available online anytime or by phoning 216-961-6391 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.

And what of the future?

First, the cast, crew and staff of Move On! will go back inside after MOVE ON poster 4the outdoor gathering and carry out an important Near West Theatre tradition. It’s almost unbearably emotional to think of the last potluck and gift circle — experienced by so many participants over the decades — taking place on those risers and that stage Sunday night.

Then the transition begins. Our Tech Work Session participants, led by Technical Director and Production Manager Josh Padgett, Assistant Technical Director Perren Hedderson, and Stage Manager Ryan Wolf, will spend the summer dismantling our set, risers and theatrical equipment, taking inventory, and storing much of it to await the move in early 2015 to our future home, still under construction in the Gordon Square Arts District. In this way, our equipment can be readied for transit as soon as the interior of our new theater becomes available, even as we put on a fall show elsewhere.

The familiar West 38th Street side door of West Side UCC, where our fall show will be. Photo by Hans Holznagel

The West 38th Street side door of West Side UCC, where we’ll be this fall. Photo by Hans Holznagel

And there will be a fall show! Auditions for a musical soon to be announced will be Sept. 2, 3 and 4. For cast members ages 7 through adult, the production will be rehearsed September through November and performed Nov. 21 through Dec. 7 in the sanctuary of West Side United Church of Christ, 3800 Bridge Avenue, right across West 38th Street from St. Pat’s. It’s a familiar place to past KLAMOR participants and audiences and a long-time rehearsal site for our Annual Benefit. We’re grateful to the folks at West Side UCC  for making room for us during what promises to be an exciting transitional half-season. — 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, 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.