Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Playhouse director has tough act to top


Stern approaches his 10th season with merry heart

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Ed Stern
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        Playhouse producing artistic director Ed Stern will celebrate his 10th season at the Eden Park theater with the 2001-2002 season.

        “If someone had asked me 10 years ago, "Where do you want the theater to be?' I would never in my wildest dreams think of this.”

        “This” is a calendar that fills more than 300 nights a year. “This” is what the National Endowment for the Arts terms “a full service regional repertory theater.”

        Ask Mr. Stern about high points in his Playhouse career and he'll tell you the most fun has been in almost a decade of building to bring Playhouse to where it is now: highly regarded locally, regionally and nationally and a beehive of activity.

        Mr. Stern looks back to a recent week and enumerates, “We had 30 performances of six different events. Dark Paradise was on the Marx stage, Avenue X was in the Shelterhouse, there was a Monday night alteractive, Rosenthal Next Generation children's theater performances on Saturday, an outreach tour by the acting intern company from Ohio University. The week also featured the final performance of Nixon's Nixon at the Hong Kong Arts Festival. (This Playhouse production has been a hit on the international theater festival circuit.)

        “Approximately 9,100 people attended performances — and the shows were good,” Mr. Stern says.

        “The best thing of all was when I was watching a signed performance by Bill Shontz. The show finished up with a song and a little girl was signing along.

        “I thought, "This is why we're here, this is what we should be doing.' The subscription season is what most people know, but if that's all we were doing, we wouldn't be a community theater.”

        Eliminating debt and growing audience are two factors in creating one of the busiest schedules on the national regional theater scene.

        National professional theater service organization Theatre Communications Group lists playhouse subscriptions (21,000-plus) and subscription renewals (84%) among the highest in the nation.

        It's the Greater Cincinnati community, says Mr. Stern, that is the most significant factor in the theater's artistic and financial success.

        “I never thought a community could be this keen on going as far as we have for the whole community, not just the people who take advantage of the subscription season.

        “The board lets the theater keep reinventing itself, which is the only way a theater stays alive.”
        There are still more ways to grow, says Mr. Stern, although he's not ready to venture a prediction for 10 years from now. He does plan to try to “keep figuring out what our community's needs are and what the national theater community's needs are.”

        Throughout his career, Mr. Stern has been a decade kind of guy. He spent the '70s founding and helming Indiana Rep. He spent the '80s teaching and guest directing.

        Looking at the Big 1-0 (officially April 2002) he laughs, “there has been a meter, but I don't hear it ticking. I'm still celebrating the evolution of the Playhouse. I come in every day and it's still a new experience.”

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