Near West Theatre Benefit on 2/12/11
Not only one of the coolest spaces in the region, the nave of Trinity Cathedral can now be counted as one of the sweetest performance spaces. For the past 12 of their 33 years, Near West Theatre has honored one of their supporters in a major public event, and turned it into a benefit to raise funds for their good work.
This year’s honoree, attorney Eric Kennedy of Weisman, Kennedy & Berris Co., L.P.A., refused any accolades and instead insisted that he was honored to be in the presence of the community that Near West Theatre had gathered for the occasion.
For Near West Theatre’s Street Beat benefit, they ingeniously built a stage in-the-round so the performances and announcements could be easily seen and heard by all, a difficult thing to do when your patrons and supporters are busy bidding on the silent auction, snacking on hot hors d’oeuvres and chatting at the bar.
But then a strange thing happened.
In the middle of the medley that artistic director Bob Navis had arranged with a cast of approximately 40 actors, dancers, singers and performers who have graced the NWT stage throughout the years, one performer began singing the opening lines from, Alone, from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a show much beloved by Cleveland theatre goers, as it’s production in the early 1970’s started a movement that saved Cleveland’s theatre district from the wrecking ball.
Trinidad Rosato Snider [pictured in black at center], a performer who started with Near West Theatre at the age of 14 in 1989, appeared at the top of the stage, and immediately captured the attention of every one of the 400 or so attendees, including the volunteers, the bartenders, and the clean-up crew. With her achingly perfect delivery and her skill in working the stage in-the-round, she touched every soul in the Cathedral, and all the chit-chat stopped cold:
We have power, you and I
But what good is that now
We could build a new world
If we only knew how
And we find… we’re alone
And then, a miracle. The cast responded with a refrain of their own, the song, No One Is Alone from Into The Woods:
Mother cannot guide you
Now you’re on your own
Only me beside you
Still, you’re not alone
No one is alone, truly
No one is alone
In a few short minutes, the celebrating patrons were presented with an artistic message par excellence, as hard hitting as the pavement that the homeless sleep on, and as transcendent as the miracles that Near West Theatre works every year with hundreds of kids from the neighborhood. The organization’s work with youth and teens on large musical productions, notable for the social messages inherent in the best art, was plainly on display as we witnessed the transition from one lonely soul to a roomful of supportive, helpful peers, using art not only to communicate, but to heal, and to offer hope.
Most benefits are boring, but this organization should be congratulated for achieving a near perfect synthesis of a fun event that also managed to showcase artistic expression and the social issues that Near West is grounded in. After the performance, Founder, Executive Director and choreographer Stephanie Morrison Hrbek, who had been on stage with the cast pushing the energy to the holy roof of Trinity Cathedral, said a few words, and Artistic Director Bob Navis read a moving speech tying the events in Egypt to NWT’s daily mission, a message that simply floored the congregation [see text below].
Not only did this benefit build off the mission of Near West Theatre, it raised north of $62,000, a lot of money by their standards. It will come in handy as they leave their longtime home at St. Patrick’s Club Building on Bridge Avenue in Ohio City and raise money to build their own theatre and rehearsal space at West 67th & Detroit in the Gordon Square Arts District.
Moreover, the event was crazy successful in showcasing how they meet that mission day in and day out, and in celebrating their closest supporters. In our age of interconnected communications, it is actually more and more difficult to get the simplest message across. Near West Theatre communicated through an experience of pure artistic expression by the constituents they work with each day, and by celebrating their most stalwart proponents.
You really should have been there. Maybe you were… or maybe next year?
Comments by artistic director Bob Navis at Near West Theatre’s Street Beat benefit on Sat 2/12/11:
IT HAS BEEN BOTH A HAUNTING AND MOVING EXPERIENCE FOR ME TO BE REHEARSING THESE SONGS OF SOCIAL TENSION AND PERSONAL REVOLUTION ALL WEEK
WHILE WATCHING EGYPT’S PEOPLE RISK THEIR LIVES AND THEIR LIVELIHOODS
BY DEMANDING A CHANGE OF IN THE VERY STRUCTURE OF THEIR SOCIETY
BY SHOUTING, SINGING AND DANCING THE VALUES THEY WANT THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR COUNTRY’S FUTURE TO BE BUILT UPON
BY CLAIMING FREEDOM, DIGNITY AND SELF RULE AS THEIR BIRTHRIGHT
AND DOING ALL OF THIS WITH AN STARTLING SPIRIT OF EXPECTANCY,
IN PEACE…..AND GOOD WILL
I HAVE TRULY CHERISHED EVERY HOUR, EVERY MOMENT THIS PAST WEEK OF, CREATING WITH THESE OUTRAGEOUS, FREE-SPIRITED ACTORS WHO HAVE VOLUNTEERED AND INVESTED THEIR TIME AND THEIR PASSION TO THIS NIGHT,
TO THIS CAUSE, TO THE FUTURE OF NWT.
THE NEED FOR LIBERATION EXISTS THE WORLD OVER
THE STREETS OF CLEVELAND ARE A NETWORK OF DIVERSE INTERACTION WHERE PEOPLE SOMETIMES WALK ALONE AND YET,
ALSO, SOMETIMES FIND EACH OTHER
IN ALL OF US, THE NEED FOR CONNECTION AND BELONGING, THE NEED TO BE VALUED, IS DEEP AND POWERFUL
AND THERE IS A GROWING GLOBAL SENSE THAT THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A TIME WITH MORE POWERFUL POTENTIAL
FOR BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER…
FOR BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS THAT HAVE ISOLATED US INTO SEPARATE CAMPS…
FOR CREATING NEW WAYS OF SEEING
NEW WAYS OF PROBLEM SOLVING
NEW WAYS OF LIVING.
MANY HAVE NOTED THE OUR PLANET AND ITS PEOPLE ARE IN A MAJOR SHIFT OF CONSCIOUSNESS
NEAR WEST THEATRE DESIRES TO JOIN THAT SHIFT TOWARD THE LIGHT AND CONTINUE TO PROVIDE AN EXPERIENCE OF CHANGE THAT IS TRANSFORMATIVE AND LOVING AND WELCOMES ALL TO THE BANQUET, WHERE PERSONAL DREAMS COME TRUE
NEAR WEST THEATER IS BUILT ON THE BELIEF IN THE MIRACULOUS POWER INHERENT IN THE ACT OF ARTISTIC CREATION.
TONIGHT WE LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE
A FUTURE FOR OURSELVES AND FOR ALL OF CLEVELAND THAT WILL INCLUDE A NEW NEAR WEST THEATER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER ON THE CORNER OF WEST 67TH AND DETROIT AVENUE,
A PLACE TRANSCENDENT SPIRIT…
THAT WILL BUILD ON A LEGACY OF 33 YEARS OF THEATRE
THAT BUILDS JOYOUS COMMUNITY, LIVES OF MEANING…
A PLACE TO BE WHO YOU TRULY ARE
A PLACE TO GROW INTO THE PERSON YOU WANT TO BECOME.
Auditions for Near West Theatre’s production of Into The Woods, (for ages 16 & up) take place Tue 2/22 through Thu 2/24, and the production runs Fri 5/6-22. For more information and tickets visit NearWestTheatre.org
Review & photo by Thomas Mulready