Home to a variety of theater, classical music and dance offerings, Northeast Ohio stages are in the spotlight
By Alyssa Schmitt
With scores of stages from Cleveland to Akron and Canton – and in many of the suburbs in between – Northeast Ohio is bursting at the seams with dance, theater and classical music offerings.
So much so, in fact, Karen Gahl-Mills, CEO and executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, one of the largest public funders of arts and culture in the U.S., says the thriving region performs at a level higher than might be expected of it.
“When you look at the list of all the organizations we fund – much less everything that’s out there – we do seem like we have more stuff, more stages, more organizations doing more work here than really belies a city of our size,” Gahl-Mills says.
That the area is experiencing this boom is in part a result of previous generations making arts part of the region’s foundation. To that point, several institutions are celebrating milestone anniversaries, including The Cleveland Orchestra, whose upcoming 2017-18 season marks its centennial anniversary.
“Cleveland used to be a city of a million people, so many of our cultural institutions are celebrating 100th anniversaries over the course of the last five and next five years,” Gahl-Mills says. “That speaks to those institutions being built at a time when Cleveland was a much bigger city with a much larger population. And it was a population of folks who really did believe that having arts and culture in your community needed to be part of your community’s DNA. It was a way to speak of yourself as a world city.”
The idea that Cleveland is a world-class arts city may sound foreign to outsiders, but compared to stage scenes in New York City or Chicago, Cleveland’s large and vibrant performance arts culture – and its focus on community – stack up quite well, says Clyde Simon, co-founder and art director of convergence-continuum, a Cleveland theater company that calls Tremont’s Liminis Theatre home.
“Since (convergence-continuum) started (in 2000), the theater scene in Cleveland has really grown,” Simon says. “In terms of quality, we’re definitely there. The productions that I’ve seen in those other places and the ones I’ve seen in Cleveland are equal in quality, and we’re being recognized outside of the area for such things. Cleveland has been getting some national attention beyond our own city limits.”
Quality guides the livelihood of Cleveland’s stages, but the secret to its growing audience is accessibility. Nationally known productions run through Cleveland often. Those who can’t afford to make the trip to New York City to see a renowned play or musical – chances are – can see it in Cleveland.
“We have a lot of offerings that, (in) many cities, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to experience,” says Sarah Hricko, marketing manager at DANCECleveland, a stand-alone, dance-only presenter based in Cleveland’s Shaker Square neighborhood. “We’re able to provide, at DANCECleveland, the ability for people to see world-class dance performances that in many places people would have to drive really far to get to, or in New York for example, you’re going to be spending at least double what you pay for tickets here.”
The Cleveland Orchestra has also increased accessibility in recent years. In addition to regularly performing at Severance Hall in Cleveland and Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, the orchestra has participated in neighborhood residences in Lakewood and Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway, Slavic Village and Hough neighborhoods. By performing in more familiar environs, the orchestra is able to present its world-renowned performances to audiences that may not otherwise get to experience them, says Justin Holden, Cleveland Orchestra’s director of public relations.
“Providing access, in general, in different settings – whether it’s smaller ensembles or outside of a concert hall – just helps,” Holden says. “I think that when people are asked to connect with it simply as great music and great artists performing, then it’s easier for them to have an experience that’s meaningful to them.”
Many organizations are also engaging audiences over and above an evening’s main performance. Pre-show talks explaining the history of the production, classes in which audiences can interact with performers and Q&A sessions allowing audience members to speak directly to creative talent are all common ways connections are being built.
“We want to try to make sure that not only are you seeing the show, but you’re getting to interact before and after the show as well,” Hricko says. “It’s all about creating different experiences for different people.”
Each stage is unique, which may make it challenging (in a good way) when deciding what to see, but from dance to classical music to theater, there’s no shortage of options.
“There’s a real variety in Cleveland of really different types of theaters, both physically and the kind of things they produce,” Simon says. “There’s a real wealth of theater and you can’t see everything in one week … you’re going to miss stuff because there’s so much going on now.” CV
The Cleveland Orchestra
The Cleveland Orchestra’s Gala Concert will take place Oct. 7 and serve as the celebratory kick-off to launch Second Century initiatives at the start of the ensemble’s 100th season. For more, visit clevelandorchestra.com.
Performances of “Rhinoceros” (Aug. 25 – Sept. 16) and “In the Closet” (Oct. 13 – Nov. 4) will take place at Liminis Theatre. For more, visit convergence-continuum.org.
A performance by the Koresh Dance Company will take place Oct. 1 at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, and a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company will take place Nov. 11 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For more, visit dancecleveland.org.
Lead image: DANCECleveland brings in nationally recognized dance companies like the contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, which exemplifies a minimalistic approach to dance. Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras / DANCECleveland