Tag Archives: cleveland public theatre

Coming Soon to a Cleveland Theatre Near You…

Great Lakes Theater's 1980s-infused production of The Taming of the Shrew is just one reason to be excited about this Fall's lineup of Cleveland theatre

In another life long long ago (err, 6 years ago) and far far away (Philly), I used to work in theatre.  Specifically, marketing, sales and a little bit of backstage production work (random factoid #352: I worked backstage on this show for almost 2 years when it was in Philadelphia). 

So when Fall rolls around, I get excited not just because of the changing leaves or the promise of pumpkin pie, but because it marks the beginning of a new season for most theatres.

That’s no different in Cleveland as many of our local theatre companies start to kick things off the next few weeks. My personal favorites? Cleveland Play House (who’s celebrating a new home), Great Lakes Theatre (who’s celebrating a new name and their 50th anniversary), and Cleveland Public Theatre (who I need to see more of this year).

However, the city is a hotbed of performing arts so check out this Cleveland Theatre Company Guide for 2011 which has dozens of listings. From PlayhouseSquare’s Broadway Series (on sale Friday, Sept. 9), to The Beck Center for the Arts, Dobama and convergence-continuum, there are a lot of  options beyond what I’m highlighting below.

Last year's Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant returns to Cleveland Public Theatre this December as part of a season featuring 7 world premieres

Cleveland Public Theatre

CPT — a cornerstone in Gordon Square’s plan for economic revitalization through the arts — has always produced challenging and innovative works in Cleveland. And their 2011-2012 season is no different of course. This year they have 7 world premieres — five by Northeast Ohio artists.

They promote a unique and new approach to creating productions called “devised theatre” – where the structure of the play and what the actors say comes not from a pre-written script but the rehearsal process. 6 of CPT’s shows this season were created using this unconventional method.

The Pandemonium '11: Amuse Me fundraiser on Sept. 10 starts off CPT's season this Saturday - tickets are still available and include entertainment, food and drink

I’m really happy to see that one of these 6 is the return of Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant. Scott and I saw this during last year’s sold-out run at CPT.  If you’re curious about this show filled with crazy cabaret, improv comedy, death and a mighty tasty five-course meal, you can read my full review here . It runs Dec. 1-18 at Cleveland Public Theatre.

If you don’t want to wait for that, check the link above for all of their other productions, including this Saturday’s Pandemonium ’11.

Pandemonium is CPT’s annual fundraiser and features a ridiculously long list of performance groups and plays that will all be packed into their campus on Sept. 10 (fittingly, with so many options for entertainment, this year’s theme is “Amuse Me”).  Over 35 Cleveland restaurants will be in attendance as well, and all food, drink, entertainment and valet parking is included in the tax-deductible ticket.

Cleveland Play House

Bertolt Brecht’s The Life of Galileo kicks off Cleveland Play House’s inaugural season in PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre (here’s the full 2011-2012 lineup). Completely renovated and transformed, the tiny glimpse I’ve seen of their new home looks amazing! 

To celebrate this landmark season for them, Cleveland Play House has a number of upcoming events. While many of these are open to the general public, some of them are targeted to specific audiences like Young Professionals, families and the LGBT community to provide a different backdrop for social and networking opportunities. 

Check the list below for their full roundup (including a new Play Date series for caregivers and their children).

Cleveland Play House celebrates their inaugural season in PlayhouseSquare's Allen Theatre with Brecht's The Life of Galileo, Sept. 16-Oct. 9

  • CPH Open House – 4:30pm – 8:00pm, Monday, September 12, 2011 – Join Cleveland Play House for tours, giveaways and more to celebrate their new home at PlayhouseSquare.
  • CPH Season Opening Party – Sunday, September 18, 2011 – A gala pre-theatre cocktail reception and a special 7:30pm performance of The Life of Galileo.
  • Galileo Play Date – Sunday, September 18, 2011 – A new program for parents, grandparents, caregivers and their children. While grown-ups are watching the show, children are in a play date designed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
  • nightOUT! LGBT Series– Thursday, September 22, 2011 – A new program that gives a chance for the LGBT community and friends to mix and mingle with a rotating series of happy hours, after parties and more.
  • Gen.NOWSeries – Tuesday, September 27, 2011 – A new program that encourages the next generation of young Clevelanders to engage with each other, downtown hotspots and CPH’s newest show.
  • College Night @ CPH Series – Tuesday, October 4, 2011 – A new program where college students from all universities mingle, enjoy free snacks and soda, then see a show.
  • Pre-show conversation – Arrive to your performance 45 minutes early for a lively discussion with a member of the cast or creative team (this takes place at every show).
  • Post-show discussions – Sunday, September 25; Tuesday, September 27; Sunday, October 2; Sunday, October 9 – Join actors from the cast for these post-show discussions moderated by a member of the artistic staff.
  • Student Matinees – 10:30am on Friday, September 23 and Wednesday, October 5, 2011. For details, call (216) 795-7000, ext. 149.

Great Lakes Theater

Great Lakes Theater was originally founded in 1962 as the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. Over the years the name was changed to Great Lakes Theater Festival as they moved beyond producing just the works of Shakespeare. 

With their 50th anniversary season just getting started and because they no longer present plays in a festival-style format, they’ve streamlined it to Great Lakes Theater. Of course, regardless of the name change, Great Lakes Theater is still my favorite place to see Shakespeare and other classics performed in Cleveland.

Great Lakes Theater is also celebrating their huge anniversary with a packed season of 6 productions (up 1 from previous years). Things start with their fall repertory of Cabaret and The Taming of the Shrew running together from Sept. 23 until Sept. 30.

The Taming of the Shrew runs in rotating repertory with Cabaret to kick off Great Lakes Theater’s 50th anniversary season, Sept. 23-Oct. 30

As I’ve written many times before, attending a show at Great Lakes Theater is about more than the production, it’s also about the experience of the Hanna Theatre.  Before CPH moved into PlayhouseSquare’s transformed Allen Theatre, the Hanna Theatre complex was renovated for Great Lakes Theater to similarly create a more dynamic, engaging experience for theatregoers.

With a variety of seating options (my favorite is the couches) and a bar inside the theatre that’s open 90 minutes before and after the show (if you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch a combat rehearsal!), a night out at a show takes on a different meaning at Great Lakes Theater. 

In fact, seeing what Great Lakes Theater has done and continues to do at the Hanna is one of the reasons I’m so excited for Cleveland Play House’s move. Now I’ll have two very unique theatre experiences to check out at PlayhouseSquare!    


I hope with that short rundown I have you just as excited for Fall Theatre in Cleveland as I am. Of course, if you’re still hungry for more, browse through Examiner.com’s Cleveland Theatre Company Guide for links to the many, many other options for theatre in Cleveland.

What shows are you most looking forward to?

Photo Credits:

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant at Cleveland Public Theatre

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant may be a delicious mix of fine dining and theatrical insanity; however, as Conni's rule no. 7 instructs it is not dinner theatre. (photo from cptonline.org)

My friends know me well — or they at least read my blog — because they surprised me with an early Christmas present this past Saturday: 2 tickets to Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant at Cleveland Public Theatre. Regardless of whether they took a hint from ‘All I Want for Cleve-mas,’ they stumped me and found a show that wasn’t on my radar yet.

What is Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant?  Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I very briefly looked at Cleveland Public Theatre‘s site before I went, but all I knew was that it was going to be experimental theatre at its most ridiculous and I’d get a meal.  Beyond that, I planned on being surprised. 

As soon as we walked into the Cleveland Public Theatre, the fun began with us selecting a holiday persona from a tray of nametags. I chose to undertake the mantle of Ms. Mannheim Steamroller, while Scott – who loves a good pun – went with Mince ∏. The doors had opened a half hour before the show to allow guests to mingle in the lobby’s bar and sample a delicious roasted chestnuts and mushroom tartine appetizer. Hunter, one of the members of the ensemble, was our barkeep for the night, slinging beers and wine from behind the bar and sharing his opinions on the world.  Miss Goodi Two Shoes was also flitting about the pre-show party welcoming guests as would be expected of the gracious ballerina. A few moments before 7, we were greeted by a parade of all of our evening’s hosts, who laid out the rules for the night:

  1. Inside the Restaurant you are not a customer, but an invited guest of Miss Conni Convergence.
  2. There is absolutely no ordering, but you can ask for seconds.
  3. Referring to the performers as “waiters” is insulting, don’t do it.
  4. Everything in the world of the Restaurant is a set piece, backdrop, or prop.
  5. Share.
  6. What happens in the Restaurant stays in the Restaurant.
  7. And most importantly, this is not dinner theatre.

We walked into the Gordon Square Theatre where tables had been set up throughout, along with a kitchen and stage decked with the sign from Conni’s Restaurant. Although it’s nothing like your traditional dinner theatre, Conni’s Avant Garde has been hailed as a unique theatrical-culinary event mixing the ingredients of fine food, wine, and ensemble theatre that results in a loving send-up of avant-garde pomposity.

The plot of the show is fairly loose with the performers wandering throughout and a lot of improv mixed in:  It’s the holidays at Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, which isn’t a place but instead a troupe of avantgardists inspired by the legendary Miss Conni Convergence, a revolutionary teacher of the culinary performance arts. Miss Goodi Two Shoes, who aspires to be Clara in this year’s Nutcracker, is suddenly pregnant. And Mrs. Robinson, a washed-up, seemingly overconfident rocker who likes to switch pants with his dinner guests, has received what he thinks is an invitation to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, in Miss Conni’s absence, General Manager Sue James tries to keep Goodi, Mrs. Robinson and the rest of the wild crew in line with limited success.

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant answers the question “What would happen if a group of experimental theatre artists took over a roadside restaurant?” (photo from cptonline.org)

In addition to the crazy cabaret, improv comedy, nudity, death and violence, guests are treated to a five-course home-cooked meal and bottles of wine.  Using local ingredients (most of which came from West Side Market’s The Basketeria), the performers originate, cook and serve the meal.  Every course is prepared and served via a musical number (Goodi’s mysterious impregnation during the soup course was very entertaining). Because of this, the food becomes part of the source material for the evening’s performance.

Besides being thoroughly entertaining, the meal was delicious. In addition to the roasted chestnuts and mushroom tartine, we were treated to a curried butternut squash soup; herbed apple and fennel salad; maple-glazed ham with cranberry compote, brown-buttered radishes and sage-roasted sweet potatoes; and drunken chocolate bundt cake.  My favorite dishes were the soup and the radishes that accompanied the ham. I’m a sucker for butternut squash but the extra kick from the curry elevated this soup and the freshly baked bread they served was an excellent complement.  Also, prior to Conni’s, my radish experience had been limited to raw in a salad, so the tender radishes surprised me — I need to have them more often.

After seeing Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, I was curious about the backstory behind the concept and did some browsing through their website. While in residence for a production of As You Like It in coastal Maine, a group of actors fantasized about moving into an abandoned area diner called “Conni’s Restaurant.” With this, a running joke of “What would happen if a group of experimental theatre artists took over a roadside restaurant?” was born. For the last few years they’ve been finetuning and expanding the concept in New York – being awarded a grant in 2009 to build a theatre company on the model of a food business. Although the majority of Conni’s performers hail from NY, the Cleveland production ‘Feast of Miracles‘ also featured local talent including four actresses who played the Nurses and Chef Chef Bon Bon who oversaw the meal and provided the delicious bread and Bundt Cake via her Gordon Square Bonbon Bake Shop.

This was the first time I had a seen a production at Cleveland Public Theatre, though I knew about them as one of three organizations at the heart of the Gordon Square Arts District revitalization.  Known for producing adventurous and experimental theatre, CPT was the perfect place to hold the Midwest premiere of Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant. CPT’s emphasis on supporting new artists and non-mainstream works is what Conni’s is about — both in the content of the performance as well as the origination of the concept. 

Sadly, Conni’s closed its sold-out Cleveland run on Sunday so that they could return to New York to continue serving their delicious mix of insanity and fine food.  However, Clevelanders don’t need to fear for a lack of challenging, new theatre since CPT’s 2010-2011 season picks back up with the Big [BOX] ’11 Series on January 14. With 10 more pieces on this year’s schedule, CPT will be busy until June when they end the season with their original production Cut to Pieces, a solo show that blends live video feed, film, and animation. 


Cleveland Public Theatre / Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant 411:

Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant

Cleveland Public Theatre