Sunday, June 18, 2000

Janus Project puts emphasis on women in theater

        Jay Apking had questions. Female questions. Luckily for the Janus Project executive director, almost a dozen local women theater professionals happily came together early this month and brought along lots of answers.

        Janus, based in Oakley, will expand from its successful children's series in 2000-2001 to include a pair of adult plays. The first will be Oleanna, David Mamet's exploration of campus gender politics, in November.

        In May 2001, Janus plans to unveil the “Minerva Play,” an annual project that would invite Cincinnati's women performing and visual artists to come together and produce a play, preferably written, produced and directed (and designed) by women.

        Mr. Apking credits Theatre of the Mind's “Women's Writes” reading series last season and new general manager Kristin Dietsche's interest as inspiration. But where to go from there?

        Actress Dale Hodges suggested a call for submissions. ETC artistic director D. Lynn Meyers, buried under Off-Center series last minute details, sent along cookies and an urgent appeal for “collaboration.”

        The women immediately embraced Ms. Meyer's notion and decided submissions should include details of how a collaboration would work.

        Cincinnati Shakespeare founding member Marni Penning urged there be a reading committee that would come together on a regular basis and include interested members of Janus, the theater community and require participation by artists submitting proposals.

        Xavier Players producer Cathy Springfield led a conversation on how to involve non-professional volunteers in the process.

        Norma Jenckes, founder of Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative and co-founder of Theatre of the Mind, suggested an appeal for “dream projects” might be addressed to “Beautiful Dreamers.”

        So, Beautiful Dreamers (including performing and visual artists): Submit your proposal/dream/brainstorm in a 500-750 word synopsis and a resume by Sept. 1 to The Janus Project, 2692 Madison Road. N1#253, Cincinnati 45208-1320.

        Janus also welcomes letters and resumes from “dream catchers” who don't have their own project but would like to participate in the “Minerva Play.” Women with skills in producing, fund-raising, organizing and technical theater are especially welcome.

        Submissions will be reviewed in September, three finalists will be chosen and those plays will be read in October in sessions open to the public. The Minerva Play will be announced in November.

        Questions? Call Janus at 235-6597.

        Tunstall back to boards: When Melvin Tunstall joined his fellow University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grads in a New York showcase a couple of years ago, agents and producers practically knocked each other over to get at him. Mr. Tunstall has a rafter-raising voice and dances like a dream. Roles in Ragtime and Rent were his for the asking.

        Instead Mr. Tunstall opted to return to Cincinnati, and for the last two years he's been doing ministry work. He was part of a very brief tryout for a new local theater and did some choreography and acting at Xavier Players. In his free time he worked on an original Cy (Sweet Charity) Coleman revue.

        He went back to New York a few weeks ago to visit friends from CCM days and decided to do some auditioning. The Lion King called back to New York last week for a follow-up audition.

        If he joins the company, it won't be until after Hey, Big Spender which he conceived and will stage gets its world premiere in September at Downtown Theatre Classics.

        Community showcase: There are the veterans, like perennial regional winner Nor ma Niinemets, Cathy Gill and Ginny Weil. There are old friends like Skip Fenker returning to the fold. There are new kids like Showbiz Players ready to make some ripples among their peers.

        Regional community theaters will strut their stuff this weekend at the annual Southwest Regional OCTAFest. (That OCTA stands for Ohio Community Theatre Association.)

        Festivities include 30-minute excerpts from 16 productions seen around the region last season, vying for slots in statewide competition over Labor Day weekend.

        The excerpts are open to the public, running from 7 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Friday and 8:15 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Saturday at Parrish Auditorium on the Miami University/Hamilton campus.

        Featured Friday night: Middletown Lyric Theater, Village Players of Fort Thomas, Greater Hamilton Civic Theater, Falcon Productions, Sunset Players and Tri-County Players.

        On the Saturday schedule: Wyoming Players, Mason Community Theater, Cincinnati Music Theatre, Mariemont Players, Drama Workshop, Milford Theatre Guild, Beechmont Players, Showbiz Players, Footlighters and Stagecrafters.

        Admission ($15) can be purchased at the door and is good for both days. For information call Joy Sharp at (513) 895-0099.

        Bridging media: Last summer a bunch of graduating buddies from Miami University landed in Cincinnati, talked about sticking around and working together and threw open a Brighton studio space to produce #18 by Joe Barnett.

        They went their separate ways soon after, hardly surprising but “it was kind of a blow,” sighs Mr. Barnett. “I'd worked with the same group for two years. That was a cold, lonely place for a bit.”

        Mr. Barnett did stay in Cincinnati and he's back in the theater business, at least for a weekend. The masterminds behind the very temporary VOLK gallery (214 E. 14th St., between Sycamore and Main) in Over-the-Rhine asked him to direct Sam Shepard's wild and woolly one-act Cowboy Mouth.

        Mr. Barnett found musicians and a willing collaborator in visual artist Alan Sauer. Not only is the stage design something of an installation, but Mr. Sauer has incorporated the performers into the art with body painting.

        Check out Mr. Barnett's experiment in bridging the barriers between theater, art and music Friday and Saturday.

        Call 252-8699 for reservations, $10 donation requested.

        Showboat contract: A small step for Showboat Majestic, a giant step for the Cincinnati professional acting community?

        Showboat has signed its first Actor's Equity guest artist contract to put Ty Yadzinski (and his stop-the-show tenor) front and center in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

        Showboat managing director Denny Reed says signing the guest artist agreement is a big step which he hopes is a) a first step to becoming one of Cincinnati's professional theaters and b) providing more paid employment to the region's professional performers.

        How to Succeed opens Wednesday and continues through July 9. Give Mr. Reed a big hand when you call the box office at 241-6550 for information and reservations.

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


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