Saturday, August 26, 2000

Planning team turns over reins to arts alliance

        Monday evening, members of the Regional Cultural Planning transition team will celebrate a job well done and then disband. The team is making way for the Regional Cultural Alliance board, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting Tuesday.

        The new board, expected to be about 30 strong, will have a full agenda, including a report on the search for an executive director.

        That search has narrowed to 10 candidates who will be interviewed by phone this week. Word is that the list of semifinalists includes several people with experience heading arts councils. Five finalists will be selected by mid-month.

        Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts' marketing committee has appropriated the top idea from a cultural planning think tank a couple of years back and is moving forward on it.

        The subject is cultural tourism; a favorite solution is a “festival.”

        A pair of obvious anchors loom on the cultural horizon: the opening of the new Contemporary Arts Center and the debut of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        Ideas are in the draft stages, says committee member Mary Stagaman, but it's not too early to be making plans. It's obvious, she notes, that these are both “once in a lifetime opportunities that will bring international attention” to the region. What nobody wants is “a missed opportunity.”

        A September date has been set to huddle with the artistic leaders of the Big Eight arts groups and the institute's associate members to see how themed festivals can be created out of regular programming.

        Likely themes are “new,” to celebrate the Contemporary Arts Center unveiling, and “freedom” for the Underground Railroad.

        Nobody's talking about pumping any money into creating an event worthy of expected national and international attention. The truth is successful festivals (from New Haven, Conn.'s Festival of Ideas to to Chicago's Humanities Festival to Charleston, S.C.'s Piccolo Spoleto) are more than marketing campaigns.

        Happily, with the first festival being talked about for spring 2003, there's still time to think big. Think national funding sources. Think about how to reach beyond the handful of organizations that get serious institute patronage and include all the region's best arts and artists.

        Think about really doing what it takes to put Cincinnati in its already deserved place on the nation's cultural map.

        Carnegie's "Encores!': Greater Cincinnati may just get its own Encores!, the so-hip New York musicals-in-concert series that gave life to, among other things, Broadway's wildly successful revival of Chicago.

        The Carnegie in Covington is patiently waiting for results of grant applications, expected in September. If it's a thumbs-up, look for a project tryout in winter with either Bells Are Ringing or The Boys from Syracuse.

        That will be about it for theater at the Carnegie in 2000-2001. The money finally has been all but rounded up to make the arts center's adjacent buildings handicapped accessible, but installing the elevator, ramps and new restrooms will be a nine-month job.

        With theater renovation probably the Carnegie's next capital project, the 2001-2002 season is equally uncertain.

        But, points out executive director Mary Anne Wehrend, the new, improved Carnegie will be well worth waiting for.

        Brothers play sisters: Robin Baker has been a community theater regular for years, mostly working onstage, backstage and in the pit as music director with Falcon Players. It comes naturally. He started his performing career in high school and college and has been a music teacher for 10 years in Ross.

        Elder brother (by eight years) Steve has always liked theater, particularly musicals, and noticed that his younger brother certainly seemed to be having a good time. But as a broadcast guy, Steve spent years doing play-by-play for Miami University football and basketball. A rehearsal schedule was impossible.

        When Steve became station manager at WOXY-FM in Oxford, his hours became more regular. He decided to start trying out his acting chops. He performed mostly at Butler County theaters, but he'll venture as far as Cincinnati Music Theatre and Lawrenceburg's Rivertown Players “for a good musical.”

        “But I've been wanting to work with Robin for a long time,” says Steve.

        Now they're getting their chance to work together, even if they have to dress up like nuns to do it.

        Falcon Players opens its season Sept. 8 with Nunsense, A-men! which is essentially Nunsense, a send-up of being raised Catholic, with guys getting in the habit.

        Robin, who has “always thought it would be totally hilarious to see it done by men” called Steve.

        They didn't fight over roles, they laugh. “Being on the larger side of the Baker family,” Steve says dryly, “Mother Superior was a natural.”

        Robin plays Sister Robert Anne, the star-struck nun from New Jersey. “Mother Superior is usually totally annoyed with Robert Anne,” Steve laughs, but be assured it's all acting. No deeply buried sibling stuff to work out between the Bakers.

        Nunsense A-Men! plays weekends through Sept. 23 at Westwood Town Hall (Harrison at Montana). Call 651-9567 for reservations and information.

        The usually edgy Falcon rounds out its season with Twelfth Night in March and a revival of Tony 'n Tina's Wedding in May.

        “This is our money-making season,” says Falcon's Dave Radtke. “Sometimes you just have to do that.”

        "Blue Window': IF Theatre Collaborative returns this week with Craig Lucas' hip comedy Blue Window.

        The show almost didn't happen, says director Benjamin Mosse. He was on his fifth round of auditions when cast members Sarah Mann, Matthew Pyle and Lisa Penning, all familiar faces on serious small stages, arrived to take key roles.

        They join Brandon Brady, Jessica Morgan, J. Edward Nelson and Stephanie Skaff in a modern look at the before, during and after of a Manhattan dinner party.

        Performances are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday through Sept. 9 at the University YMCA (270 Calhoun St.) Tickets $10. Call 961-7434 for reservations and information.

        Playhouse auditions: Non-Equity performers are having a banner fall at Playhouse in the Park.

        More than a dozen actors are in rehearsal for Inherit the Wind (starting previews Sept. 5). Holiday perennial A Christmas Carol is always filled with local faces.

        Sandwiched between them is Everything's Ducky, and the Playhouse is looking for a quartet of local non-Equity performers.

        They are seeking two male and two female adults who appear to be in their early 20s to serve as non-speaking extras. Performers must have movement skills, although they don't need to be dancers.

        Performers must be available for daytime and evening commitments Oct. 17-19 as well as for performances Oct. 20-Nov. 17. The rehearsal schedule also requires availability the weekend of Sept. 29-Oct. 1 to travel to Repertory Theatre of St. Louis to learn the roles.

        Interested actors may apply for an audition by submitting a current headshot and resume with address and phone number to: Casting-Everything's Ducky, Playhouse in the Park, P.O. Box 6537, Cincinnati 45206. Deadline is Sept. 8. Don't call or e-mail. Auditions will be held by appointment.

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


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