The Art of Engagement, Part 4: Cleveland Public Theatre

Over the last month, I’ve enjoyed blogging about one of my favorite topics: Cleveland theatre.  Specifically, highlighting what a few of our local theatres are doing to engage more diverse audiences and help members of the community explore a deeper relationship with the performing arts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about local enrichment programs along the way and will check some of them out the next time you see a show.  Today I’m happy to conclude the Art of Engagement with Cleveland Public Theatre.

CPT is the ideal setting for audience engagement programs. Founded in 1981, CPT was inspired by Cafe LaMama, an internationally renowned experimental theatre in New York City. For over 30 years, Cleveland Public Theatre has been Cleveland’s leading stage for adventurous new theatre, nationally recognized for its unconventional and ground breaking work.

From productions like Conni’s Avant-Garde Restaurant to their Big Box series, which gives local artists the opportunity to create new work, CPT challenges their audiences to experience theatre as “a site for celebration, a forum for debate, a vessel for exploration.”

To help audiences dig deeper into the labyrinth, Cleveland Public Theatre has introduced a handful of audience engagement programs this season.

After Friday night performances, CPT invites the audience to stay and enjoy a drink on them. However, Free Beer Fridays are about more than just drinking for free.

Artists from the show, such as actors, designers or the director, as well as CPT staff attend Free Beer Fridays to mingle with the audience and have a conversation about what they just saw.  The goal is to make the theatre feel more like a home where questions, thoughts and discussion are always welcome.

CPT is also engaging audiences and helping newer artists through two development programs: the Springboard: Staged Reading Festival and Leap/Conceive.

CPT opened the 2011-2012 season with their first Springboard series. The festival featured staged readings of new scripts by local writers as well as work that was under consideration for future production.

In addition to post-show discussions, comment cards were left on every chair so that if audience members wanted they could anonymously share their feedback on the show.

With Leap/Conceive, audiences got a sneak peek into the creative process as CPT presented showcases of performances in the middle of development.  The artists — all from Northeast Ohio — chose a 10 minute segment of their future production to develop and share. Audience and artists saw the work together, assessed it and offered their reactions.  CPT took a flip/cam around immediately after the show to get people’s reactions on what they had just experienced.

Both of these series not only supported local artists, but also offered audiences a rare opportunity to participate in shaping new work.  The final production will show the fruits of the audience feedback it received during development.

Coming up next for Cleveland Public Theatre is their production of Antebellum which opens this coming Thursday, February 23.

Against the backdrops of a southern American plantation, a German concentration camp, the world premiere of Gone With The Wind and 1930s Berlin cabarets, the love story of two men, one Jewish and the other African-American, bridges time, space and gender and challenges intolerance of race and religion.

In addition to Antebellum, CPT’s upcoming productions of Poor Little Lulu and Akarui were either written by an openly gay playwright or deal with LGBT issues. To further engage the LGBT community and allies during these productions, CPT created goPUBLIC.

On the second Friday of these three productions (March 2, March 16 and June 1), CPT will host their goPUBLIC pre-show happy hour as well as the Free Beer Friday after the performance.  With the production bookended by these opportunities to socialize pre- and post-show, the performance creates a source of insightful conversation.

More information about the goPUBLIC night for Antebellum can be found below:

From social to educational experiences, new to well-established programs, I’ve loved learning about the audience engagement experiences the Cleveland Play House, Near West Theatre, Great Lakes Theater and Cleveland Public Theatre offer.

There are a lot of opportunities (most of them free!) to discover more about the shows you see onstage, meet new people who are similarly interested in the arts and even get involved with the creative process.

Of course, there’s a lot I still need to explore within Cleveland theatre – Dobama, Beck and convergence-continuum are on my list to name just a few.

But that’s what I think is at the heart of audience engagement and its greatest gift: the desire to keep exploring new theatres, shows and the unique approaches each company takes. And at the end of the day, I hope I was able to share a bit of that with you.

Missed parts 1-3 in the Art of Engagement? Here you go:

One thought on “The Art of Engagement, Part 4: Cleveland Public Theatre

  1. Pingback: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Premiere of Antebellum « Clue Into Cleveland

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