Cleveland’s 4th Station Hope Unites All at Ohio City’s St. John’s Episcopal Church

Photo by Steve Wagner

Sat 4/29 @ 6:30-10PM

Got hope? That’s tough, these days.

Hope is something that many people are struggling to find. However, there is one event that aims to restore that sense of optimism and faith in Northeast Ohioans.

The 4th annual free Cleveland Public Theatre’s Station Hope takes places April 29 on the grounds of Ohio City’s St. John’s Episcopal Church, where more than 250 artists will perform social justice-inspired works at Cleveland’s first authenticated Underground Railroad site.

Furthermore, dozens of community and professional arts and culture organizations are uniting to present diverse original works around contemporary topics — immigration, education, police brutality, human trafficking, gun violence, income inequality, racism and gender discrimination — as well as historically- based original works around the area’s Underground Railroad history.

CoolCleveland talked to Cleveland Public Theatre’s executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan about this unique event.

Tell us about the origins of Station Hope.

It started with (former Cleveland City Councilman) Joe Cimperman. The church is the oldest sanctified building in Cuyahoga County and was a stop on the underground railroad. It’s also at this really interesting crux in the neighborhood where lots of new development is happening next to long-term residents next to public housing. He saw this church as a place that could potentially play not only a historical role, but a future role of convening and working towards social justice. What we realized was we can use the model for our fundraiser Pandemonium, which really brings together hundreds of artists. So instead of it being about sexy, cool, high-art experience, it’s about social justice. We reached out to communities — institute and amateur groups, super high-level professional groups, individual artists — and they came back and said we want to be a part of this idea of celebrating Cleveland’s history, but also of saying we have a lot of work to still do.

How has the event changed or evolved over the last few years?

It’s really grown in participation and audience members. This year we’re just primarily focusing on St. John’s Church. What’s really extraordinary is everywhere you’ll walk, suddenly you’ll see artists and different reflections of different things. It has such a low-key environment that somehow facilitates people connecting that would never otherwise connect. You’re not in a dark theater where you sit next to strangers. You’re actually in pretty wide spaces. You’re watching something for 15 minutes and just random conversations and connections happen throughout the event.

Can you elaborate on those connections?

Last year, I saw these two upper-middle class women who have lived in the neighborhood for quite some time. They were sitting next to two older women who live at Lakeview Terrace, the public housing estate just north of the Church. They just happened to be sitting together and started talking after the performance. I watched them as they walked out and got onto the church steps and began to plan together what they wanted to see next. They didn’t come there together, but in the event, they kind of became their own cohorts in some way. The other thing about this location and why we were really excited about it, we’ve been the resident theater company at Lakeview Terrace for 18 years now providing afterschool and summertime programming for the kids who live there really on a long-term basis. This was sort of a natural extension of that work as well.

It seems like hyperbole, but Station Hope may be unlike any other event.

Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like this. When you arrive, it almost feels like a block party. There will be just maybe a performance happening under a tent or somebody painting something or somebody might ask if you want to participate in an art project. And you might walk into the church and see a dance performance, and then a theater performance and then an opera performance. And then as you’re walking out, you might see a historical reenactment happening on the steps of the church. The way that we bring together the variety of performance, the focus of social justice and the community. I’ve never seen anything like this nationally or internationally — the grassroots nature of it but also the scale and the experience. And because it’s free, I would say it’s the most diverse audience I have ever seen in my life in relation to class, in relation to income.

Finally, it seems as though the timing of this year’s Station Hope is apropos.

Yeah, and you never know what’s going to happen. One year we did it on the eve of the Michael Brelo verdict, and it was tough. Here are we are doing it now at a time that for myself — I feel like I can’t remember a more discouraging time in America. I really hope that this is a time for people to get a little bit of solace and really nurture that kind of hope we need for the coming four years.

[Written by John Benson]

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