Sunday, May 4, 2003

Downtown theater scene needs
monetary impetus

We need a downtown theater scene. And if you think we have time to think about it for a few more years, look no further than the Aronoff Center's Fifth Third Bank Theater, where only one semi-pro theater, Ovation, has a solid season booking for next season. A few years ago, there were as many as five companies vying for space.

To date, next season "is lighter than it's been in five or six years," says Cincinnati Arts Association vice-president and general manager Janet Taylor.

We need a downtown theater scene - a diverse, high quality scene that says our city is alive at night.

Last week I started this conversation with the suggestion that the entire region support an incubator for Playhouse in the Park to recruit the best young directors and designers from across the nation.

Here's another suggestion: The city needs to subsidize the Fifth Third Bank Theater.

The city has OK'd $2.2 million for capital investments in the arts this year and next. Not surprisingly, a lot of this year's money (as always) is being devoted to the eight large arts groups.

How about a $25,000 investment in a more diverse performing arts scene? Negotiate with CAA so that the $25,000 (half the price of window boxes for Over-the-Rhine in this year's capital investment budget) would cover CAA costs, including stagehands, for 26 weekends.

It might open the door to all sorts of things, from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's fab musical theater students trying out cabaret acts to the survival of companies like New Edgecliff and IF Theatre Collective, which can't afford the Aronoff but also can't afford not to be in the Aronoff, the downtown beacon for theater. People know how to find it, know where to find parking and restaurants.

New Edgecliff artistic director Michael Shooner is weighing his options as New Edgecliff's days at The Artery in Newport appear to be ending.

"I'm really torn," says Shooner, who's set to open Square One on May 15. Directed by Rebecca Bowman, audiences who loved her in I Stand Before You Naked last year (my choice for outstanding semi-pro production) should be standing in line.

After five years of struggle, "I don't know if I can continue to sacrifice my life to it," he sighed one night last week. (He's at his computer creating the show's program.) "If I thought there was help on the horizon, but there isn't..."

IF Theatre Collective also is weighing its options. Last November, IF produced an acclaimed but poorly attended Lebentraum, one of the best semi-pro shows of the season, in the Fifth Third.

Its stars, Corinne Mohlenhoff and Matthew Pyle, will return to IF for Lanford Wilson's Sympathetic Magic, May 15-25 at Xavier's Gallagher Theatre. After that, producer Ed Cohen says he expects IF to "go into hibernation."

Queen City Off Broadway, which sporadically produces consistently watchable theater, also has pulled up stakes from downtown.

We have to cultivate our mid-sized performing arts scene now. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's being taken care of. It isn't. It's never been.

The annual Fine Arts Fund campaign just set a record $10 million, but more than 90 percent of that stays with the largest arts groups.

Taylor reminded me that when the Aronoff opened in 1995, there had been conversation about raising a pool of money that would provide combined, collaborative marketing for companies housed in the two smaller theaters. That conversation never went anywhere.

It needs to happen now.

We need solutions now. This needs to be a public discussion. Please join in with comments and suggestions. E-mail me at the address below.

Bar tickets: Tickets for The Bar Tour ($5 for one admission, $10 for an all-evening pass) are available at box offices around downtown.

The Bar Tour, the final entry in the 2002-03 Enquirer Footlights series, will feature lots of good stuff, including a sneak preview of Janet Vogt and Mark Friedman's new love-and-divorce revue War Games.

Sets will be performed throughout the evening at Kaldi's, Hamburger Mary's and Arnold's. For more information, visit a box office or

Green Gables: Janet Vogt and Mark Friedman's Anne of Green Gables will be presented as part of Human Race Theatre's Musical Theater Workshop series at 7 p.m. today and Monday at the Metropolitan Arts Center, 126 N. Main St., adjacent to the Victoria Theatre, in Dayton. Tickets $15. Call the box office at (937) 461-3823, Ext. 3113.

Discount tickets: STUBS is a new word-of-mouth discount program from the League of Cincinnati Theatres.

It's the brainchild of actor Jim Stump, to reward theatergoers for recommending shows.

You write your name and contact information on the stub of a participating League theater, hand it to a friend who redeems it at the box office for a discount to the same show.

The stub then goes into a drawing for prizes at the end of the season (and for more drawings at the annual League season opener party in autumn).

Participating theaters and shows:

Ensemble Theatre will offer student rates for ticket stubs for Triple Espresso and Hedwig and the Angry Inch; Cincinnati Shakespeare will offer student rates during Gingham Dog;

Know Tribe will discount $2 during This Is Our Youth and Corpus Christi; Falcon Players will offer 25 percent off tickets for The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged).

CCM closer: The regional premiere of Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things will close the season for CCM's drama department.

LaBute (In the Company of Men) again chillingly explores exploitative relationships. Shape plays Thursday through Saturday in CCM's Studio Theater. Tickets are free but reservations are required. Call the box office (556-4183), starting at noon Monday.


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