By Steve Sucato
The first large-scale citywide arts event since the global pandemic hit, The City is Our Stage on Saturday, August 15 from 1-6 p.m., is a tapas-crawl-style drive-to sampler of a variety of local music, theater, poetry, dance, and circus performers’ work throughout greater Cleveland neighborhoods.
The brainchild of nationally known lighting and production designer Trad A. Burns, MorrisonDance founder/director Sarah Morrison and All-Go-Sign’s Chuck Karnak, the event gives audiences the opportunity to get out of the house and into their vehicles to see live performance in up-to-10 minute bite form on the porches, front lawns, driveways and other small-scale locations, of artists just as eager to get back to performing for the public.
“It was probably March we had our first conversation about what we can do during this pandemic for ourselves to perform and the community as a whole,” says Burns.
The volunteer trio says they reached out to the city and other organizations about the feasibility of several ideas to put on such an event.
“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we knew we had to come up with an idea we could put time and time and energy in and realize,” says Karnak. “We knew people being in cars we could move in that direction.”
The idea they landed on took its inspiration from a similar, if not significantly smaller scale, drive-up arts tour in Seattle.
The Cleveland The City is Our Stage event involves some 28 interdisciplinary mini performances along 10 distinct driving routes within a 15-mile radius of downtown Cleveland. There is a choice of 40 location and start time options to choose from each taking about 2-hours to complete. (See below for a full listing of performers).
“The planning was incredibly complicated,” says Burns. While he, Karnak and Morrison (with administrative support from Lindsay Carter), handled the choosing the performers involved, the logistics of the audience driving routes and organizing the performance schedules, the choice of performance spaces was left to the performers themselves with guidelines that it had to be a private residence or have permission from the owner and the neighbors and they needed to submit how many cars could legally park at one time. The performers were also charged with providing their own production elements and equipment for sound, multimedia, etc.
Morrison says the group worked extremely hard to reach out to and include as many diverse artists as possible and as such for this inaugural event, most everyone that wanted to participate is doing so. Also, for Morrison getting The City is Our Stage to work was more than the idea of bringing the local arts community together, but a personal quest to save live performance. “We have to fight for something,” she says. It is great to be creative and come up with new ideas for virtual content, but dance [and other performance art forms] is most appreciated in a physical space with an audience,” she says.
With an event like this, the need to have it highly controlled became apparent to the organizers. The performers were given instructions to adhere to state COVID-19 guidelines, and those purchasing tickets are asked to do so as well. The routes and addresses to performance spaces will be issued prior to August 15 and only paid vehicles will be allowed into the performance areas. All the proceeds from the event will be divided up amongst the performers.
As to whether the trio see the event as more than a one-time deal, Burns says “I would love to bring this back. I think we as artists are going to be in a position that some of these new things we have found as creative artists to adapt to the current environment we will continue to do when this [the pandemic] is over.
Morrison and Karnak concur seeing The City is Our Stage as even more than a collection of performances but a journey of discovery for audience members about the neighborhoods and parts of the city they may not have explored before.
Easily one of the most unifying and spirit-lifting arts events to come out of this difficult time in all our lives, The City is Our Stage is a can’t miss opportunity for any arts lover.
Here is a rundown of the artists performing:
- AlbaTrio “Original Jazz Composition” – the trumpet trio will be previewing new instrumental compositions from their upcoming album. About: AlbaTrio is comprised of Tommy Lehman on trumpet (of the Acid Cats and Admirables), Tim Lekan on bass and Anthony Taddeo on drums and percussion (Hey Mavis and Helen Welch). A relatively new trio, the project was started by Anthony Taddeo in 2019 to explore one of his favorite trio formations. The compositions of the group deal greatly with the various nuances of each instrument all while pushing their role in the context of a jazz trio. Taking from the sounds of Miles Davis, Dave Douglas and Avishai Cohen, AlbaTrio brings a diverse and eclectic sound to the jazz idiom. albatrio.bandcamp.com/releases
- Aminah Louise “Bellydance” – About: Aminah first fell in love with Bellydance at the age of 13 but did not start classes until college. Since then she has studied many different sub-genres under the Bellydance umbrella from Folkloric, to Modern Egyptian to Transnational Fusion. She also teaches at Cleveland Exotic Dance. facebook.com/tyler.louse
- Ballet Legato “Jokeying For Position” – Maneuver or manipulate for one’s own benefit to be seen and a better position to be noticed. About: Ballet Legato is a new Northeast Ohio contemporary ballet company. We hope to offer a fresh new view of contemporary ballet to our community through the direction of our Artistic Executive Director. Dance brings people together and bridges generations. We want our performances and appearances to contribute to this togetherness – we see them as a way to give back to society and an expression of the individuality we each bring to the world. balletlegato.org
- BE FITNESS – About: BE FITNESS started as Be Studios, a pole fitness and dance studio in 2007 by Christina Anderson. Christina has been a dancer since she was 5 years old at Canton Ballet and has a B.A. in Studio Art and Dance. She has spent her life studying and exploring different forms of dance. She has traveled to Spain to study flamenco; Austin, TX and Haiti to study Afro-Haitian dance; and San Francisco to study Afro-Brazilian dance, Tribal Belly Dance and Iyengar yoga. befitnesscle.com
- Blakk Jakk “We Are & Power” – “We are” is a ballad that displays the connection of all living things and how we are all a part of something bigger. “Power” is a message of reclaiming your place and displaying power in stillness. About: RonDale Simpson mission is to own and operate a performing arts school and company geared towards community youth and local artists of all disciplines. Always having a passion for the arts, RonDale was in school plays, marching band, and choir, but dance was his gift. Maintaining a very active dance team known as Finesse Dance team, RonDale also coached a youth dance team and private fitness lessons, all while keeping up with his studies. He currently teaches dance in several schools in Cleveland and works as an administrator in a nonprofit arts program. He is also the current national President of Nu Rho Sigma Fine Arts Fraternity Inc. Nurhosigma.org
- Cats On Holiday – The Swamp Poppin’ outfit”, Cats On Holiday, promises to rock your Blues away! About: Purveyors of Roots/Zydeco, The Cat’s music is a high-energy romp from the shores of Lake Erie to the bayou of Louisiana. The band’s instrumentation of button-box accordion, blistering guitar, washboard, and a solid rhythm section create a “Mardi Gras” street festival atmosphere. catsonholiday.com
- Christopher Johnson & Courtney Nicole Auman “Old Gray Ghost” – Samantha promises to visit her cousin Becca’s former childhood home in Shaker Heights, but she has her own reasons to return. There’s more there than just memories of sleepovers and running a lemonade stand in the front yard. About: Christopher Johnston has had more than 20 of his plays produced in Cleveland at a variety of venues including Cleveland Public Theatre, convergence-continuum, Dobama Theatre, and Talespinner Children’s Theatre. As a freelance journalist, he’s published more than 3,000 articles, and his book Shattering Silences: Strategies to Prevent Sexual Assault, Heal Survivors, and Bring Assailants to Justice was published by Skyhorse in 2018. Courtney Nicole Auman has had the pleasure of collaborating with countless creatives during her seven years in Cleveland. She had performed with Cleveland Public Theatre, Maelstrom Collaborative Arts, Ohio City Theatre Project, Talespinner Children’s Theatre, and many others. During this interesting time, it’s been enlightening to see artists find unique ways to continue creating. christopherjohnstonwriter.com
- The Dancing Wheels Company “Dancing in the Street” – An audience interactive performance set to the song “Dancing in the Street” by David Bowie and Mick Jagger. A company dancer will lead in teaching movement for “Dancing in the Streets” that audience members will be able to learn from their cars. The performance will culminate in a dance party, and audience members will be able to perform alongside dancers while seated inside their cars. About: Under the artistic direction of Founder Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the Dancing Wheels Company is recognized as the first and foremost professional physically integrated dance company in America, uniting the talents of dancers both with and without disabilities. Celebrating 40 years since its inception in 1980, the highly-skilled ensemble of stand-up and sit-down (wheelchair) dancers has reached over five million people worldwide with innovative main-stage performances, school assembly programs, guest appearances, master classes, and numerous outreach activities. dancingwheels.org
- Djapo Cultural Arts Institute – Art as a weapon using dance, drumming and spoken word. We would perform in a grassy area outside a residential area. About: We are an organization dedicated to preserving the art, music, dance, history, and folklore of Africa and throughout the African diaspora. djapo.com
- Fellahean With Slowburn “Blue Collar Calling” – A “non music” performance utilizing industrial sounds and equipment accompanied by surreal images/film. About: Jim Szudy was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Fellahean is Jim’s solo noise project reveling in decay and collapse through the use of harsh noise, low droning, metal scraping, and film. Jim is also a freelance photographer (440 Photography), web designer, poet, and a director of the Cleveland Photo Fest. Shawn Slowburn is a Dark Abstract Surrealist/Expressionist artist working in a variety of mediums while exploring the subjects of mythology, philosophy, psychology, and the occult-sciences. fellahean.com/home.html and 440photography.com
- Inlet Dance Theatre “The I AM Project” –The pandemic pause is giving us all a moment for reflection. Things have changed and we are unsure of the shaping of the future. Inlet Exec/Art Dir Bill Wade guided 18 dancers through a physical and writing reflection process via Zoom based on their completing the phrases “I was _____”, “I am _____”, and “I will be _____” as a way to process and document this unprecedented moment in each individual life. About: Inlet Dance Theatre is one of the region’s most exciting professional contemporary dance companies. Founded in 2001 by Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Bill Wade, Inlet embodies his longstanding belief that dance viewing, training, and performing experiences may serve as tools to bring about personal growth and development. Inlet’s collaborative artistic staff build the company’s solid reputation for uplifting individuals and engaging new audiences via performances and education programming. inletdance.org
- Kenya Woods “Balm Of The Earth” –A gentle and soothing collection of movements prepared to soothe sore spirits. About: Kenya Woods, a native of Cleveland, Ohio has more than 20 years of experience in dance performance, choreography, teaching, and leadership in Cleveland and New York. She has worked in nationally and internationally at regional dance companies, universities and school systems as an educator, performer, and choreographer. She continues to teach dance to students of all ages and lead programs that help cultivate technique, artistry, body awareness and empowerment and appreciation for dance. facebook.com/kenya.woods.121
- Lara Troyer, Soprano & Anne Wilson –Piano Enjoy a performance of Italian Opera favorites along with the beautiful melodies of the Golden Age of musical theatre. Soprano Lara Troyer and accompanist Anne Wilson bring to you their musical talents through the medium of song. About: Described as singing with an engaging, robust tone by clevelandclassical.com, Ms. Troyer is a versatile soprano, at home on the opera stage as well as concert and recital stage. She is a frequent soloist in the Northeast Ohio region, most recently heard with the Master Singer’s Chorale, Nightingale Opera Theatre, Chamber Music Society of Ohio, Akron Symphony, and many others. facebook.com/lara.troyer
- Laura D’alessandro/Tou Cha/June Hund/Norbert Ziebold “Hands Of The Future” – Through the magic of puppetry, we will use a lyrical flow of form and images, to express what a positive impact creating and collaboration can have on community. Hands have the power to destroy; to comfort; to heal; to create–seeds of possibility are planted in our connection and within our hope for the future. About: Laura is an artist, educator and puppeteer. Currently, she is the director of the Cleveland Photo Fest, and co-curator of Prama Artspace. Tou is an artist and puppeteer. He has worked extensively with “In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre”, as well as with “Barebones Productions.” June and Norbert are artists who collaborate on visual art Page 10 and installations. Their projects have been shown at Rooms to Let Cle, Ingenuity Fest, and the Doubting Thomas Gallery. clevelandartistregistry.org/artists/laura-dalessandro-photography2
- Marquez Dance Project “Roots To Heaven” – A contemporary dance piece that moves from the ground to the sky. This duet centers around the importance of family and community. How these very foundations can be the strength you need to take flight. About: Marquez Dance Project (MDP) explores human complexity through a creative lens. The intention behind our work is to recapture moments that speak to the community. We incorporate theatrical, physical and often surreal imagery to generate meaningful and provoking works. marquezdanceproject.org
- Mike Bruckman – A solo piano and poetry performance amidst the trees of the Katewood Estate. instagram.com/Katewoodcle
- MorrisonDance “3 Seeds From A Pomegranate” – MorrisonDance performs their classic take on the myth of Persephone within the beautiful landscape of Katewood in Bratenahl. About: Sharing the joy of dance for over 20 years, MorrisonDance gets its unique strength from performers trained in a variety of movement arts willing to stretch their abilities through presentations in alternative venues and through experimental presentations combining nature, technology, and other artistic disciplines. MorrisonDance.com
- Nadia Tarnawsky “A Stand of Songs” – stand – noun. 1. a group of growing plants of a specified kind, especially trees. 2. a group of traditional songs from a specific place – Ukraine. About: Nadia Tarnawsky has recently returned to the United States after completing a year of research, study and teaching in Ukraine as a recipient of a Fulbright Award. She has performed at La MaMa ETC (NYC), Annex Theatre (Seattle), Cleveland Public Theatre and in Fringe Festivals in New York, New Orleans and Cincinnati. During her Fulbright, she created a one woman show, Shattered, which was performed in various cities across Ukraine. nadiatarnawsky.com
- Near West – Young artists tell their stories of the current world around them and how these stories affect them and can effect change. About: Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through accessible, affordable and transformational theatre arts experiences. nearwesttheatre.org
- Opus 216 “Soundscape” – An original, improvised “soundscapes” inspired by Opus 216’s multi-genre work across classical, folk, and jazz music. About: Founded in 2012, OPUS 216 is classically trained but unbound by genre. The ensemble enjoys a varied career, performing for special events across northeast Ohio, from concert halls and museums to smaller private events. opus216.com
- Radio on the Lake Theatre “Alien Invasion” from War of the Worlds – A recreation of the thrilling “alien invasion” scene from the classic radio play War of the Worlds, including authentic sound effects and audience participation. About: Radio on the Lake Theatre came to life as the Arts Radio Network Theatre Project in 2002. It was initially developed as an outreach program for NPR member station WXEL in Boynton Beach, FL. In 2015, ARNTP partnered with Miami-based NPR member station WLRN to create WLRN Radio Theatre, a series of classic radio plays performed in venues throughout South Florida, including the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, Arts Garage in Delray Beach, and the Studios of Key West. ARNTP, now Radio on the Lake Theatre, relocated in 2017 to Shaker Heights, Ohio. We are currently partnering with Story Forum to present a new Inspired By… series with high school students writing radio plays based on stories in The Shakerite. We have also partnered with Playwrights Local on two radio plays – Every Play is a Radio Play When You’re Blind and Entanglement. radioonthelaketheatre.org
- Robin VanLear Arts Acts Ltd. “Dream Sequence” – Sharing the mystery of rituals, both sacred and secular, how each participant makes them his/her own, where they can lead, how they inspire us, and why they are important in our lives. About: Robin VanLear is the creator of Parade the Circle, the I Madonnari Chalk Festival and other community festivals for the Cleveland Museum of Art. For 30 years she served as the director of the Department of Community Arts, which she founded for the museum in 1990. Her performance art company Art Acts created the opening for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as performances with the Cleveland Orchestra and performances for Tri-C JazzFest. Story Lee Rhinehart is an artist and choreographer who has had pieces presented at Cleveland Public Theatre and at The Cleveland Playhouse. She grew up working on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s “Parade the Circle” where most recently she was an ensemble artist and an outreach choreographer. Story lives in Shaker Heights with her husband, two daughters and their dog, Banton. Esther Nahm, violist, has performed, taught and directed projects with a life-long goal of creating platforms for people to come together and connect through music. She has performed with the St. Louis, New World and Richmond Symphonies and is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and Boston University. facebook.com/Art-Acts-Ltd-100455824918566/
- Russian Duo “Balalaika-Piano Music From Around The World” – From Russian roots and classical music to world favorites, vocals, ragtime, tango and blue grass, Russian Duo’s music will surprise, delight, and dazzle you. About: Russian Duo is an international project, born out of a love of traditional music and classical elegance. Oleg (balalaika virtuoso from Siberia) and Terry (American concert pianist) celebrate cross-cultural creativity, exploring the range of possibilities for balalaika, voice, and piano. russianduo.com
- Shanty Circus “In the Boundaries of the Multiverse” – Denizens of the multi-verse explore isolation and invasion and whether boundaries protect or harm us in the separate yet connected worlds of trapeze, rope, pole, lyra, aerial silks, stilt dancers, and partner acrobatics. About: The Shanty Circus is a growing collective of people who love movement-based art, spend years honing their specific discipline to perform the next hardest trick, and use their breath-taking physicality to explore the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. facebook.com/duocirque
- Sky Aerial Works “Dancing On My Own” – An Aerial Dance doubles performance using silks and aerial hoop portraying the creativity found during quarantine between Emily and her son Rylan. About: Emily is a local Cleveland area aerial performer and instructor. During quarantine her and her son Rylan put together aerial dance routines they are excited to showcase during this performance. skyserialworks.com
- The Scenic Route “Acoustic” – Hear original, stripped down, acoustic versions of The Scenic Route music. About: The Scenic Route is a female fronted, Indie Rock band based in Canton, Ohio. Their original music is a rock/pop fusion with eclectic influences. Their newest single, “I’m Giving You Up!” is a punky hybrid that uses energetic verses and a powerful, explosive chorus to capture the jubilant feeling of leaving a toxic, codependent relationship behind. facebook.com/TSROUTE
- Eric Schmiedl of The Welcome Table “We Can Do This!” – Embracing roots music and the spoken word to celebrate an intergenerational message of hope, resilience, and humor. About: THE WELCOME TABLE celebrates the full breath of American experiences by drawing from Gospel, Blues, Folk, and Pop to create fresh harmonic interpretations of songs for venues large and small, historic and holiday. facebook.com/THEWELCOMETABLEBAND
- Tribe Ostara Tribal Belly Dance “Swords & Flying Skirts!” – A fierce and fabulous improvisational sword, skirt, and zill performance by Tribe Ostara characterized by beautiful and colorful, ethnic costumes and movements inspired by folkloric dances of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and India. About: Tribe Ostara was started in 2016 by Jan McAndrew and Denyce Renee. We have a diverse cast of multi-aged dancers with years of training in different genres of belly dance, such as cabaret, folkloric, and tribal fusion. Our traveling troupe has performed at various indoor and outdoor events, festivals, and fund-raisers, including Ingenuity Fest, WinterStar Ball (Starwood Festival), The Witches Ball, Pooka Festival, Walk-About Tremont, Final Friday Coventry, and One Billion Rising. limlim.com/tribeostara/home.html
- Verb Ballets “Bolero” – Originally choreographed by Heinz Poll and performed to the epic music of Ravel, the ballet blends Indian and modern dance styles while its drive, propulsion, and intensity build with the famous crescendo. About: For the past 30 years, Verb Ballets has gained a reputation for artistic excellence and exemplary community engagement. Under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Carlson, and Richard Dickinson, MFA, the company is committed to the creation and mounting of dance works of the highest caliber. verbballets.org
The City is Our Stage, 1 – 6 p.m., Saturday, August 15 (Rain Date, Sunday, August 16). Tickets are $40 per vehicle and available until the morning of the event. Visit thecityisourstage.com for tickets and more information.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.