Sunday, January 23, 2000

ArtAbility lets kids show what they can do

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When ArtAbility was unveiled on June 30 as part of Art Links, executive director Linda Tresvant's goal was to take 70 arts outreach programs to children with disabilities during the next year.

        The phone started ringing. Children's Hospital, Drake Center, Stepping Stones, Shriners Burns Institute, United Way all wanted to participate.

        The phone continues to ring. Butler County and Hamilton County departments and agencies have been waiting for a program like ArtAbility, which would help create a sense of independence, personal growth and self-esteem. With 61 events already completed or booked, that goal of 70 is just about a sure thing.

        ArtAbility teaching artist Holly Pratt, of Lyrica and Holly's Harps, can wring your heart with some of her anecdotes. At one session at Shriners, she remembers a particular toddler. “He was bandaged head to foot. He was a stiff little mummy guy. All you could see was his nose and part of his mouth.

        “There was a splint on the end of one of his arms and we got him to bang on the harp strings. He made this funny sound, and I was afraid I'd hurt him but the nurse said, "No, he's laughing.'”

        But the point to ArtAbility, Ms. Pratt emphasizes, is not heart-wringing. It's that these kids are just like other kids.

        “We all have our strengths and weaknesses and emotional needs and abilities and disabilities. And some people's disabilities are just more obvious than others. With arts, we can all do these things, learn from these things, enjoy these things.”

        ArtAbility (and Art Links) will be showcased from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Hyatt Regency before the fifth annual Inclusion Network Leadership Awards. About 10 artists will work with children from inner-city schools and Stepping Stones.

        There will also be a children's art exhibit and sale on the theme “Inclusion Begins With Me.” Host is Barry Woods, who had been studying at Art Academy of Cincinnati when he had a cycling accident. Now a paraplegic, he works at a gallery in Milford.

        Following the sold-out awards dinner, Cabaret Art Links will begin at about 8:30 p.m. with blind jazz singer Wanda Owens accompanied by jazzman Phil DeGreg. Both Art Links events are free and open to the public.

        Ms. Tresvant quotes the organization's motto, from novelist Henry Miller: “Art teaches nothing but the significance of life.”

        For more information on Arts Links and its programs, including Adopt-a-School, Art Bus, ArtAbility and Yo! Art!, call 475-4848.

        A SNEAK PEAK: Chesapeake, playwright Lee Blessing's one-man comic tirade about the National Endowment for the Arts, Congress and a dog, was pulled from the Ensemble Theatre schedule and replaced with the author's The Winning Streak, opening Wednesday.

        But now we can all get a free peek at Chesapeake. Mr. Blessing will read the play at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the theater, 1127 Vine St. Seating is first come, first served. Call 421-3555.

        TAYMOR'S BURNING SUCCESS: Julie Taymor: Playing With Fire has turned out to be the most popular exhibit in the Wexner Center's 10 years, with 125,000 visitors during the scheduled run at the center on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus. The retrospective has been extended through March 19.

        Related events, including guided tours and free screenings of Ms. Taymor's work, have also been extended. Call the Wexner Center at (614) 292-3535 or go to

        If you're longing to expand your Taymor fest, know that there's still no local opening date set for her film Titus (but it's expected by early February). The Green Bird will open on Broadway in April.

        HIS OWN BENEFIT: “I am so ready,” says Jason Miller, who graduated from Northern Kentucky University in 1998 and has been singing and dancing in “a lot of (professional) dinner theater” ever since. Now he's getting ready to pack his bags and move to Los Angeles.

        Mr. Miller is hoping to make some money for his move by performing his one-man show What Bugs Me About Acting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at York Street Cafe in Newport. “I'm throwing myself a benefit,” he laughs.

        The 70-minute revue has lots of songs, including four originals by Mr. Miller. It was created as a senior project, and Mr. Miller has called on his former classmate Lori Hiltenbeitel to direct.

        Nothing at the moment is bugging him about acting. The dinner theater stints were always intended to help raise enough money to “try one of the cities” — New York, Chicago, L.A. He opted for L.A. because he loves the beach “and Chicago seems to close to home,” which is Hamilton.

        He's eager to try for film and television. “My degree is in drama, it's always been closer to my heart than musical theater.” He doesn't have an agent waiting. He doesn't care. “I'm young, there's nothing holding me here, if it doesn't work out, I can always come home and get a teaching certificate.”

        In the meantime, a Jan. 31 performance quickly sold out so he added Feb. 1. There will be no more extensions. “I don't think I can. I rented a U-Haul and I'm leaving Feb. 5.”

        Tickets are $15, $5 for 16 and younger. Call 291-3110.

        L.A. STORY: Speaking of local grads making it in L.A., College-Conservatory of Music alum Diana Uhlenbrock has appeared on Everybody Loves Raymond and had a running guest spot on The Drew Carey Show (where she even got to play Maria in West Side Story.) Now her fingers are crossed that the new City of Angels takes with viewers. She has a continuing role as the sassy gal who runs the morgue.

        Ms. Uhlenbrock has also worked up a one-woman show. CCM drama head Richard Hess spent part of his holiday break helping her whip it into shape. “We're hoping it gets picked up for a long run.”

        BACK HOME: And, a final L.A. (and far more typical) story: Keith Brush (Western Hills High School, Class of '80) is back at Ensemble after five years away to co-star in Lee Blessing's The Winning Streak, opening Wednesday.

        In fact, it was an earlier Lee Blessing drama, Lake Street Extension, at ETC that convinced him to try his luck on the Left Coast. “It's been a bit of an odyssey,” he says.

        Mr. Brush could use a professional winning streak of his own. He loves Los Angeles, but he is yet to appear on network TV or even as an extra in a Hollywood hit.

        He's participated in a handful of small films aimed at film festivals (none have broken through). When he returns to L.A., he'll go back to knocking on doors.

        He's found a second career in career coaching. Not surprisingly, a lot of his clients are actors. “You can meet some very depressed people out there,” he says.

        “But being in L.A. isn't all about being in the business,” he says, “You try to make the contacts, figure out whose door you need to be knocking on, do everything you can, then stand back and go to the beach.”

        The Winning Streak, directed by Mr. Blessing, runs through Feb. 13. Box office: 421-3555.

        HUMANA LOSS: The Humana Festival of New Plays is about to change forever. Jon Jory, the man who founded it, announced earlier this week that he'll leave Actors Theatre of Louisville after 31 years. He's taking a faculty appointment at University of Washington School of Drama in the fall.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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