Consider Yourself One of Us: Benefit for Near West Theatre

Consider Yourself One of Us
Party down Dickens-style with Cle’s beloved Near West Theatre



By Julie Cajigas

It isn’t hard to “Consider Yourself One of Us” when it comes to Near West Theatre. For more than 30 years, Near West Theatre (NWT) has been bringing new people onto the stage, whether in the spotlight or behind the scenes. In fact, the NWT motto is “Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Theatre.” This Sat 1/28 from 6 – 9:30PM, the theatre is hosting their annual benefit at Trinity Cathedral at 2230 Euclid Ave.

Get your tickets for “Consider Yourself One of Us,” Near West Theatre’s 2012 Benefit here.

If you are a friend of the theatre, an alum or a parent of an actor or actress, you don’t need any convincing of what a special event this will be. For those of you who are not familiar with NWT, I feel it is my duty to make sure you don’t miss out on what will definitely be one of Cleveland’s finest evening events in 2012. I know many people don’t usually attend benefits unless they are already acquainted with an organization, but take my word for it, this is a great way to get to know NWT. Once you’ve seen the wonderful work they are doing with the arts in our community, and the high-level of polish and professionalism they’ve inspired in performers from all walks of life, you’ll find them irresistible.

Join NWT for a Dickens-style street party. A Dickens street party? Yes, and probably one of the finest you’ll ever see outside of foggy London town. “This will not be your typical Victorian-themed party,” said Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr. “The show, the environment, the street performers — all of it will create the feel of Charles Dickens’ London with a Near West Theatre Edge,” he says. While I’m not sure what a “typical” Victorian-themed party is like, the NWT benefit is a great opportunity to get dressed up and immerse yourself in the drama of the theatre.

The first reason not to miss the 2012 NWT Benefit is the sheer magic you’re likely to experience under the stately spires of Trinity Cathedral. Attending an NWT benefit is like being invited to be an extra in your favorite Broadway show and being transported to another time and place all at once. This year’s benefit evening features a high-energy, original performance by NWT cast members, food and drink from Euro USA, Spice of Life, Gypsy Beans & Baking Co, Thirsty Dog Brewing Co., Stone Mad Pub, and R.C. Distributors, a DJ, dancing, a silent auction and raffle and many more surprises.

The second, and most important reason the NWT Benefit is a can’t-miss, is the wonderful effect your contributions will have on the theatre and the families, friends and neighbors it serves. The benefit is the theatre’s most important fundraiser of the year, raising money to help build community through theatre. How does NWT achieve that?

One of the most amazing facts or figures about NWT is the ticket price. What would you pay to see the highest quality local theatre? And it really is of the highest quality. From amazing sets to heart-wrenching and heart-lifting performances, the theatre sells out nearly every show — at $8/adult seat. Why is the theatre only charging $8 for these great performances? Because they want the show to be accessible to every member of their community. To defray the cost of providing such affordable seats, NWT raises money through their annual benefit (did you get your ticket yet?) and by selling “Star Seats.” “Star Seat donors help bridge the gap between the true cost of an audience member’s experience and the affordable rate we offer our guests,” says the NWT website. “Buy this package and help NWT continue to offer affordable, high-quality theatre on the Near West Side.” Get your Star Seats here.

Accessibility is a very big part of the NWT mission, and another important reason you should attend the benefit, consider donating to the organization and consider encouraging your company or employer to become a sponsor. In their current location at W. 38th and Bridge, Near West Theatre productions are currently not accessible by wheelchair. This has been a heartbreaking reality for the theatre staff and the patrons for a number of years. The theatre has exhausted all of their ideas to make the current space accessible, and thus, as part of the Gordon Square Arts District, plans to build a new, fully accessible, air-conditioned theatre at W. 67th and Detroit. By helping Near West Theatre raise the money they need to operate now, you can become a part of something beautiful in the future. The price of your benefit ticket will help the staff continue the mission and work to raise capital funds so they can make the theatre arts accessible, not only to future audience members, but to performers who have limited mobility and lots of talent. In the future, there may also be opportunities to contribute to the capital campaign itself, but for now, helping the theatre continue its mission as it prepares for its new home is a wonderful way to help.

It seems there are more than enough reasons to attend this enchanting party, but I have one more to offer… Near West Theatre opens up the theatre experience to people from all walks of life, at all levels of experience. Nothing illustrates this more than the way actors come into the Near West family.

One of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had with Near West Theatre was attending an audition for one of their shows. I wasn’t looking to be cast. Instead, I wanted to observe the audition process, which is legendary among those who have participated in it. I had heard that anyone could audition without previous training or preparation. The goal of the auditions at NWT is to level the playing field so that people of all experience levels, including those with no prior experience, can have a chance at getting cast in a major role. Of course, some casting decisions are made based on a person’s talent, ability and potential, but it’s so rare to see experience and training taken out of the equation. In fact, it was nothing like any other theatre audition I’ve ever been to.

Though I was just there to observe, I was invited to participate, and was happy to accept the offer. The audition began in a circle where we introduced ourselves and got to know one another. From there, we spent some time discussing the themes in the show and the director’s vision. Then, the fun started. We played theatre game after theatre game, giving each person a chance to show off their creativity and to act, either alone, or in mini skits posed by other participants or created by small groups. The time flew by as we walked, crawled, swam and hopped through invisible terrains, responded to unknown natural disasters and stretched our imaginations to their limits. Finally it was time for the dancing and singing portion of the auditions. Where you might usually hear people belting out polished Broadway tunes, at these auditions you would have heard us practicing a snippet of a song from the show together. No one got to audition for one part or another; we all auditioned for all parts together.

The choreographer, and Executive Director, Stephanie Morrison-Hrbek, came out to teach us a dance, which we would do with a partner. Following her enthusiastic movements, and watching her hair bob up and down in its characteristic way, everyone was having fun instead of stressing out over each step. After the short lesson, she watched us dance in pairs and walked around giving pointers to each group. Then, we learned our snippet of a song and sang it together in a group, each one of us eventually stepping out to give a brief solo. The audition flew by, and at the end all the prospective actors congregated and chatted with one another. Some knew each other from previous productions, but many of us had just grown close over the process of the auditions. It was a soul-baring, entertaining and ultimately memorable experience.

What came from those auditions? The cast that emerged was a lot of things, but first and foremost, the cast was breathtaking. Watching the culminating show several months later, I couldn’t help but be proud to have been part of the process. It was exciting to see how people from the audition had been cast and how they had grown since we auditioned together. Having seen a few more shows since then, I am always amazed at the quality of NWT performances. The cast was diverse. It was truly made up of people from all walks of life. There were children acting with their parents, high school and college-age students, middle-aged adults and elderly cast members. Many of the actors came from the near west side community, while others came from around Northeast Ohio. The cast was ethnically diverse too, and roles that were traditionally determined by race were openly cast. The cast also represented a diversity of experience. Some lead actors had had lead roles before, but some were first or second-time theatre participants. The most important answer, however, to the question “what came from those auditions?” is: a beautifully acted, powerful performance that everyone in Cleveland should have come to see — and they’ll be able to someday, with your help, in a brand-new theatre building.

The 2012 Near West Theatre Benefit “Consider Yourself One of Us” is from 6 – 9:30PM this Sat 1/28 at Trinity Cathedral, 2230 Euclid Ave, Cleveland. Purchase your ticket here today. Want to join the cast? Auditions for Ragtime are coming up! Visit the audition schedule here. To learn more about NWT, visit their website at or on Facebook at


Julie Cajigas is a Cleveland girl who grew up on the East & West Side and now lives near Akron – she’s got the whole town covered. Cajigas holds Bachelors Degrees in Communication and Music, along with a Masters in Applied Communication Theory and Methodology from Cleveland State University, and currently serves as a visiting lecturer in the The University of Akron’s School of Communication.

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One Response to “Consider Yourself One of Us: Benefit for Near West Theatre”

  1. […] Earlier this week, Julie Cajigas from CoolCleveland posted an article on Near West’s upcoming benefit and shared her experiences from attending one of their auditions. Although she originally attended the audition to observe, she was invited to participate and has a great story to share about the transformative audition process that’s open to everyone. Definitely check the article out. […]

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