Sunday, May 13, 2001

Community gets passionate about playwriting

        University of Cincinnati professor of English Norma Jenckes is passionate about playwriting. She teaches it every year. She founded Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative, and she is a staunch advocate for a serious playwriting lab here.

        That dream will get a jump-start next season, beginning in fall, with the first B.W. Morris Playwright in Residence. David Johnston will come to campus for five weeks beginning Oct. 27 to teach beginning playwriting (available to the public through Continuing Education).

        Play reading series Theatre of the Mind will present one of his works (TBA) and the College-Conservatory of Music drama department will have a lab production of Candy and Dorothy, a comic exploration of Catholic activist Dorothy Day and Warhol Factory star Candy Darling.

        Just as exciting are Ms. Jenckes' plans for next spring when the four residency semifinalists will be part of a playwrights festival that will extend over two weekends, probably in late April.

        The timing couldn't be better, with the ever-strengthening drama department at CCM, Ensemble Theatre showing continuing interest in new scripts and Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival embarking on a play commissioning program. (The first commission, A Chance of Lightning by local playwright Joe McDonough, will premiere in June.)

        The four participating playwrights carry impressive credentials:

        Mayo Simon has had two entries in Humana Festival of New American Plays and will be represented in the US West new play festival in Denver in June.

        Caridad Svich is a past Rosenthal New Play Prize winner. Asian-American Lucy Wang (who grew up in Akron) is an award-winning playwright best known for Junk Bonds, produced in New York and Los Angeles.

        Cincinnati Shakespeare's Jasson Minadakis has already expressed interest in working with Sinan Unel, a Turkish-American playwright whose Pera Palas has already been produced by the Gate Theatre in London, the Lark Theatre in New York and is headed for the prestigious Long Wharf Theatre in January 2002.

        ETC's D. Lynn Meyers has committed the final Off-Center/On-Stage entry to the festival, details to be announced. Ms. Jenckes envisions a 10-day festival (two playwrights each visiting over two long weekends) and involving at least one local playwright, universities within a 250-mile radius and League of Cincinnati Theatre member theaters.

        A few cherub-sized angels would be most welcome. If you're interested in helping to make the festival and the lab happen, contact her at 556-3914.

        Or chat her up Saturday in Columbus where she'll be among many locals at the Ohio Playwrights Summit Conference.

        Ms. Jenckes will be among the speakers, who include local playwrights Mr. McDonough and Kevin Barry, and artistic directors Mr. Minadakis, Michael Shooner (New Edgecliff) and Jay Kalagayan. For information, contact playwright/actress Mary Tensing at 470-8830.

        Theater awards: Is Cincinnati going to have theater awards starting next season? Click on to and find a discussion about whether and how there could or should be theater “citations.”

        Everybody writing in hates the “citation” term, and who could blame them? It sounds like something that leads to having your driver's license suspended.

        The proposal isn't exactly coherent. (It suggests citations will be given out weekly. Oh, that Cincinnati would have award-winning theater week in and week out.) The responses are groping for order.

        While it's none of my business, I have a suggestion, mostly because watching one more arts group playing “reinvent-the-wheel” is making me twitch.

        Procedures for awards processes that work across the nation are readily found and clearly explained online. Try starting with (out of Washington, D.C.).

        Look for an official vote at Monday's league meeting.

        Open auditions: In other league business, the unified auditions (Equity and non-Equity) have been expanded to four days and are set for June 14-17 at Playhouse in the Park.

        “It's open to everyone and everyone is encouraged to attend,” says league prez Ms. Meyers. Send resumes to the league, P.O. Box 1398, Cincinnati, OH 45201 by June 1 to schedule an appointment.

        Playhouse in the Park will hold auditions for A Christmas Carol on June 16, during the unifieds (roles available for boys and girls ages 8 to 13 plus Tiny Tim, age 5 to 7).

        Playhouse is also looking to fill five children's roles in Gypsy. Four boys and one girl are needed, ages 7 to 10. Children must be able to play a musical instrument and sing.

        Auditions for children's roles in Gypsy will be held by appointment on June 9.

        Children interested in auditioning for either show should submit a resume that lists experience and a photo (good quality school or family photographs are acceptable) and must include exact birth date and height.

        Deadline to submit materials is June 1. Send headshots and resumes to: Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Attn: Auditions, P.O. Box 6537, Cincinnati 45206.

        More auditions: Shadowbox Cabaret South, coming soon (Oct. 3) to Newport on the Levee, will hold auditions on June 10.

        It's Shadowbox South because it's south of the Ohio River and south of home base Columbus, where the cabaret specializes in world premiere one-act plays, sketch comedy and live rock 'n' roll.

        Be prepared for a labor-intensive gig. Performers are also ushers, wait staff, chefs and bartenders.

        Shadowbox is “looking for energetic people with the desire to work in a challenging environment.”

        “We run the business by day and by night we set up for the shows, perform every Wednesday through Saturday year-round and cleanup afterwards. Most of us put in 14- to 16-hour days but every single one of us will tell you the effort is well worth it,” says public relations director Katy Psenicka.

        Those auditioning should prepare a two-minute monologue and two songs. Actors should be prepared to read from scripts. Musicians should bring their instruments.

        There is no mention of the audition process including mixing drinks or carrying a stacked tray through a crowded room.

        Two shots of "Sky': Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky will get double play in Cincinnati over the next several months. Playhouse in the Park will put the Harlem Renaissance drama on the main stage in January.

        And you can catch it in a free student production in College-Conservatory of Music's studio series this weekend at University of Cincinnati.

        Like E.L. Doctorow, poet and playwright Ms. Cleage places her characters in a canvas that includes real personalities of the day. A costume designer wants to get his sketches to nightclub diva Josephine Baker; a quiet neighbor works for women's health activist Margaret Sanger.

        CCM drama's Richard Hess is thrilled to be doing Blues because it means “we finally have a population of students to do a black play in a black setting.”

        Ms. Cleage was an easy choice, Mr. Hess notes. Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson's plays invariably have some older characters. Blues fits a student cast comfortably.

        Free performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Call the box office at 556-4183 for reservations starting Monday. Hit "Romance': Footlighters is midway through its regional premiere of Weird Romance, paired one-act musicals that are sort of a collision between those old romance mags and amazing story comics.

        The Girl Who Was Plugged In is a 21st century Cinderella story. Her Pilgrim Soul is a romantic ghost story set in the near-future. Weird Romance with music by Alan Menken (collaborator on Little Shop of Horrors and a slew of Disney animated musicals including Beauty and the Beast.)

        Brian Benz has been wanting to do the show for ages but last year lost Footlighters' adventurous spring slot to A New Brain.

        Weird Romance is a bona fide cult favorite. Performances continue at 7 p.m. tonight and 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. For reservations and information, call the box office at (513) 891-1965. Performances are at the Stained Glass Theatre, Eighth and York streets, Newport.

        Intern news: Back Story, created for the Actors Theatre of Louisville interns last year, will be performed by Ensemble Theatre's acting intern company in free showcase performances at 7 p.m. May 20-22.

        The dramatic anthology is a series of sketches by 18 contemporary playwrights. They fit together in a plot about sibling loyalty, rivalry and love that spans two decades.

        At least a couple of interns are planning to try their professional luck in Cincinnati. Carrie Ragsdale (from Atlanta), who played the title role of The Countess early this season and Alex Domeyko (from Alexandria, Va.), who was impressive in Love's Fire, will stay in the area for now.

        It is high season for intern showcases. Playhouse in the Park M.F.A. candidates will perform the regional premiere of timely and provocative The Laramie Project starting May 23.

        E-mail Past columns at


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