How Does Clifford Adams Still Have a Job at CCM? (UPDATE)

How Does Clifford Adams Still Have a Job at CCM? (UPDATE)

When receiving feedback from professors, especially in a conservatory setting, you normally would expect constructive criticism or maybe encouragement. Then again, you also might have a professor who will give it to you straight with blunt honesty which can be much appreciated. 

What you wouldn't expect or deserve would be racist comments along with grossly ignorant statements about your religion. No one deserves that. 

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The Way Forward: A Note to the Theatre Community in response to the 2016 Election

C. Austin Hill

  • Ohio Columnist

My dearest children, family members, students, friends, and colleagues—

“Can I be real a second? For just a millisecond; let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?” 

Like many of you, I woke this morning to a world I do not recognize.  I woke to a world that I refused to believe was possible. And I am not okay. Not yet.  Like many of you I am scared, and angry, and confused, and hurt.  Like many of you I lay awake long into the night trying to figure out how to move forward into this frightening new world.  I knew that this morning I would have to look my children in the eye and tell them the results of the vote…that I would have to comfort them as they sobbed and expressed their fear and anger, and I knew that I would be lying if I told them it would all magically be alright.  It won’t be alright. Not without some work.  I knew that I would have to look into the eyes of my amazing college students who now see nothing but danger everywhere they look. I decided to prepare a statement to read to my students—then I decided that I wanted to address our whole incredible, diverse, compassionate, wonderful community.

Please don’t misunderstand this as a message ONLY for the liberal-minded among you, these thoughts are for everyone that will take the time to read them—don’t forget that no matter how you voted last night, HALF of the population of the US voted against you.  My dear friends, we have some work to do.

In trying to stumble through these thoughts I realized that I already knew how we, as a nation, and as a theatre community, can move forward and create change.  The answer is the theatre.  Ours is an art form devoted to the creation of empathy, compassion, and humanity.  In order to do her job, an actor must connect with the feelings of someone else—AND make the audience connect with that character.  What’s missing right now, and what will be integral to fending off the demons ahead over the next four years, is empathy.  We can do that.  We must. 

The world needs the theatre more now than it ever has before.  We need to tell the stories of those whose voices are being silenced. We need to fight fictional battles in hopes of circumventing actual ones.  As a theatre historian and a professor, I find myself on the front lines of the war for compassion that we must now wage.  I teach future theatre artists and make art myself.  I also am charged with the dissemination of information, and the protection of the past, and I can tell you that this isn’t the first time that theatre has had to lead the war of humanity in this world.  Some of the greatest theatres artists were forged in eras of the greatest oppression.  The list is immense, but it includes the likes of Aristophanes, Terrence, Hrotsvitha, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Moliere, Sheridan, Aphra Behn, Vaclav Havel, Dario Fo, Franca Rame, Caryl Churchill, Brian Friel, Lady Augusta Gregory, WB Yeats, JM Synge, Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, Amiri Baracka, and Bertolt Brecht.  When human times have been toughest, theatre has exploded and thrived.

The American experiment has always included a hearty dose of resistance to the oppressors, a strong undercurrent of rebellion in the face of hegemonic rule, and a willingness to stand up for those whose voices aren’t being heard or taken seriously.  This all falls squarely into the realm of what we, as theatre artists, do best.

While I know that it’s tempting to give up, or hide, (or gloat), please don’t.  Difficult times demand a range of responses, and the theatre is poised to give them.  As I think about my own production schedule over the next few months, I’m struck by how much difference I will be able to make through my art.  At the moment, I’ve taken over the direction of a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for a friend and colleague who was recently taken ill.  The show opens next week, and I simply can’t think of a better reason to insist upon “tragedy tomorrow, COMEDY tonight.” Then, after the first of the year, I’m directing a little-known German political satire by Ernst Toller called NO MORE PEACE! about the aftermath of a heavenly bet between St. Francis (who insists man is peaceful) and Napoleon (who insists man is warlike)—with depictions of the rise of a fascist dictator who insists on (upon other things) locking up all foreigners, I am floored at the timing.  Then, in spring, I’m helming Hairspray…the ultimate battle between the way things have been and the way they should go—with hard questions about just whose lives, exactly, matter.  My dear friends, if one man can ask that many questions, and demand that many answers, through the theatre in 6 short months, just IMAGINE what this community is capable of over the next 4 years!

Please do not despair.  Instead, fight.  Fight for love. Fight for compassion. Fight for humanity. Fight to ensure that EVERY person in this country is seen as whole and human.  And above all, fight for empathy.  Let us all use our passion for this art form to take a stand—loud and brave—against walls, and in favor of bridges.

Screw your courage to the sticking place. We can make a difference.

Community Theatre: A Balanced Season

Julie H. Jordan

  • Ohio Columnist

The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation.
~ Stella Adler

Balance or budget?  Laughter or gut-wrenching pathos?  These are the questions every community theater asks itself when establishing a season. Many believe that audiences will only flock to those shows that evoke laughter instead of tears, humor instead of vulnerability. So, many community theater seasons are largely comedic; farces abound, and dramas are few and far between.  However, groups run the danger of leaving out a huge part of the human experience by eliminating those shows that make audiences think, ponder, and, dare I say, question.

I am not discounting the value of laughter and its place on the stage. Audiences sometimes love a good comedy to forget about the everyday challenges of life. However, if community theaters truly seek to be “the seeing place” as stated in the quote above, a balanced season is necessary.  Audiences need to be exposed to plays that elicit deep thought, reflecting on the human condition in totality.  The “truth about life” is exposed through the laughter AND the tears.

In addition to audience considerations, theaters that focus on only one type of production ( i.e. only comedies) shortchange their actors as well and deny them a variety of acting experiences.  Dramas require a different skill set than comedies and often, a much deeper analysis into the character at hand.  A well-rounded actor needs to be able to handle both types (comedy and drama) or at least, be exposed to both.  

So, when your board and play reading committees are evaluating plays for a possible season, go ahead and include that comedy, but think about adding some variety to your season by including a dramatic work, to achieve the sum-total “truth about life.”  Your audiences and actors will thank you!

Photo: Whittier Community Theatre

The College Search: What You Need to Know

Bill Tussey

  • Ohio Columnist

As our kids go through high school, we parents are faced with the daunting task of helping them choose a college and career path. This task is made more difficult when your child wants an education or career in fine or performing arts.

Given the number of colleges and universities, it should be no surprise that we are spoiled for choice.

There are as many ways to sort and classify schools as there are starts in the sky. The method you use should be easy to execute and understand.

Once the schools are chosen, you get to start thinking about visits and auditions.

This is where you start getting into the college savings fund. Visiting schools can be expensive, and you should try to narrow things down to cut costs as much as you can.

Auditioning is another animal all together. Not only do you have the expense of revisiting the school (most times), but also the added pressure of the audition itself. And each audition is different, and requires a different plan for preparation.

Either before or after that, comes the application process.  This can become VERY expensive, very quickly.

Many schools will offer an application fee waiver, if you ask. Always ask. It takes less than 15 seconds, and can save you $20-$60 per application. Also, depending on your financial status, you may be entitled to a waiver. Some schools already have arrangements in place with colleges, allowing certain high schools to apply for free.

And this whole process may be repeated several times, until the right school is found.

Just as the schools are selective in whom they recruit and admit, you and your student should be selective in which school you apply to and attend.

This series of articles, hopefully, will clarify the process, and give you some insight for your own journey.

The most common question I have gotten is “Where/How do I start”? The best way is to start with which academic program they are interested in. Regardless of what we parents think, it is our child that will be spending the rest of their life in this career field. The easiest way is to start with where you went to college, or a local college or university. Whether the local college has the program of study or isn’t the choice school, doesn’t really matter. They can serve as a resource for general information.

Another starting point is to list the schools you or your child know something about. Whether it is from academics, sports, music competition or just watching their commercials or events on TV, it is a starting point.

Be certain to look at a variety of schools. Large, small, urban, rural, modern or classic focus, acting techniques, music/dance/acting emphasis, sports, Greek life, dorm life, meal plans, and facilities all have influence in your decision.

College fairs are another good way to gather information. If it happens to be targeted at their particular major, even better. Generic fairs can be found at most high schools several times during the school year. These schools are most often only a few hours away, and most are in state, or near the border.

Yet another way to find colleges is to simply google “XXXX colleges and universities”, and look at the wiki page. It will usually provide a fairly comprehensive list of public and private colleges in that state. Give the wiki page more than a passing glance. Many times there is information that help you determine whether or not that school is worth spending the time to further investigate. Then you can search the websites of those schools to see if they meet the needs of your student.

On the wiki page, there will usually be a list of notable alumni. If one of them happens to be in the field of intended study, you may consider reaching out to them in an email to get their opinion of the school.

Regardless of how you choose the beginning list of schools, view their website to check if they have the degree program of choice. Request an information packet from the school. At this point, don’t worry about contacting the advisor for that major. Just start collecting information. Although it is easy to drown in information packets and view books, the more information you view will help you make a more informed decision.

Now the fun begins. Deciding how to narrow the field of choices.

Again, there are several ways to do this. 

Money is the one that most often jump to the front. While cost is a huge concern, remember many private schools are close to the same price as public schools. Also, just because a school is out of state, doesn’t make it financially inaccessible. For instance, a full time student living on campus in Athens at Ohio University will have a total cost of about $24-$25K/yr. Many out of state schools are in the $24-$40K range. These numbers are just a reference, and are from the college website. Actual cost may be higher.

Yes there is a little sticker shock when you are looking at college. We were told at one meeting “right now, it’s about $53,000/yr, and that will go up 2-4% each year”. 

Having a top number, money wise, is not a bad idea, but it should not be your only criteria.

Another limiting factor is geography. How far away can your child attend college is largely based on two things; how well they can handle being away from home, and how far you are comfortable in driving in one day. These, however, are not the only criteria.

Why one day? Well, just in case something catastrophic happens, I want to be able to get there in no more than one day. For us, the geographic limit is 12 hour drive time. For you it may be 2, or 36. Like cost, it will be different for everyone, and should be part of the conversation.

Once you have a manageable list of 20-25 schools, look at them more closely. Utilize the free resources like Princeton Review, Cappex.com, and ratemypreofessor.com. Although these will give you a partial picture of what the campus is like, at least you won’t be flying blind. Also, using all of these resources will enable you to assemble a more full picture of the campus and classroom experience.

Find out about the community where those colleges are. How do you feel about your child’s safety in a city that size? What about hurricanes (coastal schools) or tornadoes (prairie states), winter storms (hills/mountains)? What about the economy of the area?

Colleges are required to report their campus safety records and plans to the public. This information can be found on their website, and is sometimes buried. The information they report usually includes (but is not limited to) violent and non violent crimes on campus including rape, theft, burglary and drugs.

Yes, it is a big scary world out there. However, if we, as parents have done our best, our kids will be able to not only survive, but thrive. We just need to get out of their way, and let them make decisions.

The safety record of a school can be indicative of not only campus but community safety. There are many free resources available that give you crime statistics. Utilize as many as you can. Remember; just because a city was incredibly dangerous or safe ten years ago is no guarantee of the safety or danger today. Look for trends, and projected statistics as well.

You will notice that I have not suggested contacting current students of the college or university. There are two major reasons. 

One, your student will have a fair amount of one-on-one time with student reps during their visit and college fairs. Believe it or not, our kids have pretty good smoke detectors, and usually, they will be able to tell when someone is blowing smoke up their butt.

Two, student reps that usually conduct the tours are, of course, heavily biased toward that school. In fact, the recruiters at the college fairs are as well. Again, this is where a built in smoke detector is a very good thing.

In my experience, the better schools will tell you very similar things; visit the campus, see a show, talk to students away from their profs, look at the dorms, and watch how people on campus treat one another. If a school is willing to spend their time giving you this information rather than complaining about or bashing other schools, they are worth a closer look.

I have been known to put a recruiter on the spot, and ask them about another school’s program. Not only does that tell me how knowledgeable they are about their program, but also the program of a competing school. One school, when I ask about it, got the same response from 3 or 4 others, and not in a good way.

Information is a powerful tool, and you cannot have too much. At times, it may feel as if you are drowning in letters, emails and view books, but compare every scrap of information you can. If possible, have the answer before you ask the question. Not only does this put you in a more powerful position, it also can be an integrity check for the school rep.

Once you have the short list of potential schools, the fun really begins.

 

Challenges of Community Theater Productions

Julie Jordan

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

The process of mounting a successful community theater show is, by no means an easy one.  That is, if you want your production to be moving, polished, and thought-provoking.  I’m sure that in professional theater, actors drop out of roles on occasion, and it is sometimes difficult to find the right people that you envision.  The difference is, you have a lot more options, and there are many actors and stage personnel clamoring to be hired.  In Community Theater, it is sometimes challenging.

I live in an area, Cincinnati, Ohio, that is saturated with numerous community theater groups, and that is mostly a good thing.  However, try losing an important support person (i.e. lighting) or an actor after rehearsals have begun, and you find that those you would most likely wish to fill these roles are otherwise committed to another show.  Very talented support people are at a premium, and some book up over a year or two ahead!  Actors talented enough to believably perform a dramatic role are usually cast in another role for the same time slot as your show, so the search- and- find mission is especially daunting.

Next, there is the challenge of space.  Most community groups do not own their performing spaces, so are hostage to rent hikes and availability due to other facility users.  Add to that the chance that facilities are not always maintained by the owners.  Groups that have ventured out to buy their own facilities are faced with the financial challenges that come with ownership, and unless there is a good amount of money in the till before the purchase, they are driven by fundraisers, often resulting in patron-driven (safe) seasons.  

Finally, it goes without saying that working with actors, technical, and backstage crews to create a particular vision is demanding, but working in a community theater atmosphere comes with other obstacles as well.

Photo Credit: Lily Lim

 

Where’s the Fun in Fundraising?

Melissia Gary

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

There is a fine line where drama leaps off the stage and onto the financial page. As a member of a local nonprofit community theater, I can tell you the struggle to pay rent, utilities, and general upkeep is real.  Many times people realize there is a cost to putting on a show, but don’t think about the day to day operations of the building. It’s like having a second home with the same bills as your first home.  So why do it if there are bills and financial worries? Because it is a second home filled with love, laughter, family and sweet memories.  It’s in our heart and soul to make you laugh, cry or sing along. So as we worry about the financials we know it’s all worth it. 

Photo Credit: Jerri Shafer

Photo Credit: Jerri Shafer

What do we do to keep the funds flowing? We fund raise, which often translates to working as volunteers in the hot sun or pouring rain. Rentals of the theater help bring in extra cash flow. Silent auctions and garage sales are also in the mix of what we’ve done. 

So what can you do? Thanks for asking. First of all, come see our shows. When you see an invitation on social media, or get invited by a friend, bring another friend and come see our shows.  Tell everyone and bring everyone you know; we love full houses. Second, become a patron. It’s tax deductible and it’s an investment in your community.  

Finally, welcome an advertisement for our shows into your place of business or place an ad in our program.  Every little bit helps keep the lights on, the heat or air conditioning depending on the season.  So the next time you get invited to see a show, go you might just enjoy yourself and help your local theater.

 

Why Crossgender Casting (Sometimes) Works Best In A Bikini

Jill Summerville

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

On Thursday, August 18, I had the good fortune to discover a theatre company, The Short North Stage, Garden Theatre in Columbus, OH. The summer show is Psycho Beach Party, a 1987 satire of 1960s beach movies (and the sexist stereotypes within them) by drag queen, actor, and playwright, Charles Busch. Busch, who originated the role of eager ingenue Florence “Chicklet” Forrest in the 1987 production for his company, Theater-In-Limbo, spent his career using drag to question why being tall, thin, and waxed in all the right places is so often perceived as being “feminine.” His work shows why creating opportunities for men to play women's roles is sometimes a good (though admittedly controversial) idea.

Chicklet (Nick Hardin in the Short North Stage production) is a naive teen as yet untouched by puberty and its attendant hormones. She's more interested in surfing than making out on the beach, until a surfer unwittingly unleashes her siren, dominatrix alter ego, Ann Boman. Chicklet has multiple personality disorder, but her condition is less of a commentary on the treatment of those with mental illnesses than it is a critique of the virgin/whore dichotomy, which seems illogical once it's no longer placed in the context of a society that normalizes it. In the early 1960s beach movies on which the play is based, all the women are simultaneously wholesome and sexualized (Surf's Up! Beyond The Beach: AIP's Beach Party Movies”). For example, in the 1959 movie, Gidget (from which Psycho Beach Party borrows heavily), Gidget, who's blond but not buxom, is mocked by the men for her appearance. However, the movie audience is actually watching actress and model, Sandra Dee, a conventionally attractive woman who would be vulnerable to every aggressive sexual advance at a luau, which she's told is basically an orgy. The idea that a woman's sexuality is a man's to awaken is present in the marketing for many of the beach party movies (“7 Classic Beach Party Movies”), even though there are no sex scenes onscreen.

The objectification of women isn't openly critiqued in Psycho Beach Party, because the satire would be weakened if the characters were more introspective than the teens in beach party movies. The critique is in the casting; Chicklet isn't played by a woman, but her reluctant decision to change into her bikini on the beach forces us to recognize the physical humiliation and catcalling a biological or trans-gendered woman would endure at such a moment in the real world. Further, while a woman couldn't help becoming an embodiment of the virgin/whore dichotomy while playing both Chicklet and Ann Boman, a man represents both possibilities without becoming entrapped by either.

Casting a man as a woman character is most effective when the character-as-written is representing feminine stereotypes without re-presenting them. The absence of an actual, feminine body allows an audience to confront what's involved in the objectification of women---body shaming, aggressive flirtation, and suppression of sexuality---without seeing a body, like Sandree Dee's, that's daily subject to such humiliations in the real world. This allows audiences to laugh at sexist actions, but it also provides enough distance from real world practices for questioning them.

Of course, the role of Chicklet is written to be played by a man. The script is structured so that all of the feminine stereotypes Chicklet embodies will be cheekily critiqued by the very presence of a male body. However, the women's roles most often offered to men aren't written specifically to be played by men because the woman character embodies feminine stereotypes. They're roles where woman characters, like Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell, embody masculine stereotypes. A man playing a woman in a role that presents unproblematized feminine stereotypes is tacitly asking us to consider why women are subjected to those stereotypes in the real world. A man playing a “masculine” role written for a woman is perpetuating the idea that the strength and power associated with masculinity aren't qualities a woman could believably possess.

Charles Busch says there's “a real fantasy quotient” (Quoteaddicts) to his work. The beautiful thing about making plays is there's a real fantasy quotient to the whole endeavor. The key to deciding when cross-gender casting is most effective is knowing which “truths” about women, men, and everyone in between we want to perpetuate in the world outside the theatre.

The Woman that Knew Nothing

Melissa Gary

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

On my fourteenth wedding anniversary I was offered my first part in a community theater play. After I hung up the phone I began to sob uncontrollably as tears flowed like a river down my cheeks.  My husband told me not to worry, I would get the part next time. I managed to shake my head no and told him I had been offered the part. 

I was thrilled for a few hours then the fear set in and the giddiness disappeared.  I knew nothing about theater or acting or any of it. Oh, my goodness what had I done? I mean I almost chickened out of the audition. I had sat outside the theater in my car asking myself why was I doing this, I mean they were probably a professional group and who was I to be sitting in their parking lot about to go in and make a complete fool of myself.  

My imagination starting spinning out of control of what might happen. The most likely scenario was me being mercilessly being ridiculed, running from the audition, falling then finding all the people standing over my body laughing and pointing at me.  

I’d faced my fear and gone inside, did my audition and low and behold they wanted me.  They wanted the woman that knew nothing. Now I was here again outside the theater in my car, scared again, not knowing what to expect or if I could even do what I auditioned for.  I was overweight, thirty-three with no experience, yet they saw something.  They wanted me. 

Fast forward fourteen years later, I ‘ve learned so much and I’ve gained a beautiful family. Community Theater is so much more than just putting on a show.  It’s ok to be afraid as long as you don’t let it stop you.  You can do it. 

What's So Good About Bad Girls

Jill Summerville

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

On July 10, I went to see, The Countess of Monte Cristo, Phillip Hickman and Jennifer Feather-Youngblood's feminist reimagining of Alexandre Dumas' 1844 revenge novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, at the Actor's Theatre of Columbus. Dumas' Edmund Dantes, who's falsely imprisoned after his “friends” embroil him in a political scandal, is now Amelie Dantes (McLane Nagy). His swooning, disloyal love, Mercédes is now Amelie's more powerful-but-equally-cowardly Mercèd Herrera (James Harper). Amelie carries out an elaborate plan for vengeance that devastates two generations. She eventually finds happiness with Ali Telini (Derek Faraji), the son of a nobleman wronged by Mercèd who doesn't know the secret of his birth when the Countess takes him as her servant. 

Ali has a counterpart in Dumas' novel, Haydée, who cautions Dantes against revenge before finally marrying him. Ali similarly cautions the Countess, and his pleas for peace are one example of what makes this production noteworthy. When Edmund Dantes takes revenge, he's claiming the nineteenth century man's privilege of defending his honor. Ali, on the other hand, is a man who questions the same practice. Unlike Haydée, who goes from being Dantes' property because she's his servant to being his property because she's his wife, Ali is a free man who makes a deliberate choice to refute customs that glorify revenge.

Amelie Dantes (McLane Nagy) and Abbe Faria (Catherine Cryan). The photo credit goes to Jennifer Geiger

Amelie Dantes (McLane Nagy) and Abbe Faria (Catherine Cryan). The photo credit goes to Jennifer Geiger

The authors' decision to call for gender blind casting in the script makes each character's struggle more poignant by particularizing it. While Dumas' Dantes is seeking revenge like any honest gentleman who has been wronged, Amelie's “masculine” way of dressing and behaving is a frequent source of gossip amongst the other women. Mme. Villefort (Catherine Cryan), who mistakenly thinks the Countess will help her poison her father-in-law and change his will, decries the society that forces her to sacrifice her own interests to provide financial security for her children. The young ladies, Alberta Herrera (Mary Paige Rieffel), Valentine Villefort (Myia Eren), and Eugénie Danglars (Maggie Turek) take inspiration from the Countess. By the second act, they're refusing to be restricted by either corsets or social customs.

Whatever made the authors think a story with an empowered woman protagonist could appeal to an audience, it certainly wasn't the example of the 2016 Tony awards. Of the nine plays and musicals nominated for Best Play or Best Musical this year, only three have women in lead roles (tonyawards.com). All three contain the trope of women showing their steadfast resilience when confronted with male oppression. What makes this trope so enduring in contrast to one where women make concrete decisions about their lives and change the world around them? One reason, of course, is that sexism exists. CEO of Fox News Roger Ailes' recent firing for sexually harrassing employees “Fox CEO Roger Ailes And Network In Final Talks Over Exit”) is just one real world example of misogyny. It would be foolish, if not impossible, for a playwright to write as though our social norms didn't exist. Even if we admit the trope of women enduring male oppression is accurate, that doesn't entirely explain why it's so popular.

We could never do this in the real world, but let's set sexism aside for a moment. However temporarily, let's imagine we live in a society where all human encounters start with the best of intentions. After all, the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau says that's where they do start, yet he still contends humans eventually transform “strength into right and obedience into duty “ (The Social Contract and Discourse, 1761). For Rosseau, life is a constant search for ways to avoid society's eroding of one's better impulses. Regardless of whether he's right, his claim shows why it's reassuring to imagine women, who make up roughly 50% of the U.S. population according to Index Mundi, are unfailingly steadfast and kind. In fact, even psychological feminists sometimes imply women are naturally compassionate. In The Skeptical Feminist (1987), Barbara G. Walker argues a matriarchical society would be more peaceful than our current, patriarchical one.

Any trope showing women who encounter male oppression with endless resilience and gentleness perpetuates the idea that women are inherently good. Even in this imaginary world where we've temporarily disregarded sexism, we see why this trope would be appealing. When faced with the worst of which humans are capable, it's tempting to believe there are members of the population who consistently demonstrate the best of which humans are capable.

The trouble, as a play like The Countess of Monte Cristo shows, is that men and women (and everyone in between) choose how to move through the world. Tropes about “good” women are reassuring because they perpetuate the myth that behaving compassionately is a social imperative tied to gender, as opposed to a choice every individual must make. The Countess of Monte Cristo doesn't perpetuate that myth, but even plays that do can only maintain it until the curtain falls. After that, it's up to each of us to decide whom we want to be when no one is watching.

 

Reaching For The (Small) Skyline

Jill Summerville

  • OnStage Ohio Columnist

This letter is for you. Read it while looking at the Dayton, OH skyline, if you can. You must admit, that skyline has some worthy (some might even say, superior) competion nearby.

Columbus, OH, which has over a dozen theatres in the downtown area alone, is merely an hour away. That homage to mid twentieth century architecture, the Chicago skyline, is only four and a half hours away. Chicago's theatres can take some credit for that beauty; unlike most of Columbus', the downtown theatres of Chicago are big enough to have lights of their own that are part of the skyscape. For the little amount of illumination it provides, the Dayton skyline's glow takes much effort to maintain. Lexis Nexis was the most notable local corporation that had massive layoffs earlier this year, but it wasn't the only one. It's the one best known to me, because I applied for a job at Lexis Nexis.

As someone with a Phd in theatre, I would've been working outside of my field of expertise, but I would've been in good company. According to a 2013 survey by the website, CareerBuilder, one-third (31%) of college graduates ages thirty-five and over are never employed in their fields (“A Matter of Degree: Many College Grads Never Work In Their Major”). For a gimp actor like myself, the statistics are bleaker. In 2015, only 1% of the characters on TV had a disability (“Number of TV Characters With Disabilities Drops; Fewer Roles Go To Disabled Actors”). Broadway has an average of $1,138 million in ticket sales per season (“Theatre And Broadway In The US: Statistics And Facts”), but only one Broadway show, 2015's revival of Spring Awkening, has ever provided a role for a disabled actor. 

However, even norm actors who make theatre in smaller cities during their spare moments face particular challenges. The scarcity of jobs means union policies might strictly limit the amount of work that's available. Theatres may not have their own, local companies of actors. If the arts community isn't well organized, finding collaborators and funding could be difficult. Of course, there are benefits as well. There are fewer opportunities, but there's also less competition for them. Smaller theatres need many services, which means an artist can use her varied skill set. For someone who enjoys the work of making local alliances, there will be many chances. Succeeding in a competitive theatre market is one kind of challenge.

Creating a market is a different and equally worthy kind. Still, I should admit that no one goes to a tiny city like my own. People end up here. All of the artists I've met in the two years I've lived in Dayton, OH don't make art to pay their bills. They are working primary jobs to pay off school loans, take care of their parents, or provide stability for children. Some, like me, fall in love. Their names will never appear on marquees, because the city doesn't have any. It's scary, defining and redefining what constitutes a big success in a small space. Most days, I don't know if I'm a renegade, an activist, or someone who isn't living up to my own potential.

What I tell myself at night while I'm reading about how William H. Macy flew to three different states to audition repeatedly for the movie, Fargo, is that my greatest fear about staying here, with you, is finding I wouldn't be ambitious enough for New York City. That's not true; the kid who staged all of The Importance Of Being Earnest while being deliberately excluded from junior high gym class can make theatre anywhere. Honestly, my greatest fear is finding I'm not ephemeral. Though my passion for the theatre is genuine, I started acting because I was better at being various characters than I was at being myself. What if I like who I am when I'm with you so much I don't constantly wish I were someone else? That's the question that truly keeps me up, and if I were in a bigger city with more theatres with grueling rehearsal schedules I could mercifully avoid asking it.

One of the charms of living in a city people obviously haven't come to to “make it” is I can only guess what strangers' dreams are. Maybe that mother of two in a grocery store owns a dance studio. Maybe that twentysoming in the fedora is taking a film studies class. Maybe that elderly man who walks the same path every day with his dog stayed single so he could relentlessly pursue his playwrighting career. Or maybe, like me, he fell in love.

I'm often so disheartened by the statistics about the dearth of job opportunities for people with degrees in the humanities that I forget to consider the stories of those around me. Some of them may not be living they lives they expected, but perhaps they're still right where they need to be.

This letter is for you, for us. Read it while looking at the Dayton, OH skyline, if you can. I like seeing the light in your eyes.