May 20, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Akron Symphony Orchestra. Photo via akronsymphonyorchestra.org. It’s been a historical year for the Akron Symphony Orchestra, which has lately themed its concerts around important, stirring and poignant events in American life and culture. Last September, ASO performed “O’er the Land of the Free” in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the national anthem.
The title for the concert came directly from the text of the Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner,” much as the concert this past week, called “A New Birth of Freedom,” came straight from the uplifting words of President Abraham Lincoln in his “Gettysburg Address.”
August 18, 2015 by Roger Durbin
A summer weekend evening watching a polished professional ballet company perform in a grassy outdoor park. It sounds like a highbrow but comfortable experience, and one exactly like what the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, a Knight Arts grantee, had in mind when it invited Cleveland-based Verb Ballets to perform at Hardesty Park in Akron, Ohio on August 7-8.
It’s been two years since Verb Ballets, which was involved with the festival since its inception, has performed during the annual summer event. On that occasion in 2013, the contemporary dance group kicked off the month-long dance celebration at the very same venue, as reported in an earlier post.
More than one thousand people showed up to see Verb Ballets, settling in on blankets or fold-up seats as the company performed two pieces from its repertoire (“Similar” and “Spring Waters”) and also presented three new works (“Spartacus,” “Ne me quitte pas” and “Grace”). For good measure, the company presented the world premiere of a brand new piece, choreographer Lauren Edson’s “Because This Must Be.”
July 9, 2014 by Roger Durbin
Photo: A DJ provides tunes for the opening night of Akron Film+Pixel at Nightlight Cinema. Photos by Rob Vaughn.
For years, Akron Film+Pixel showed cutting-edge films in pop-up events around the city – 20 a year on average - filling a void in the one of the largest communities in the country without an indie cinema. The group built a following, and now has its own space to house them: a new 50-seat theater called the Nightlight Cinema, showing two films nightly to often sold out crowds since opening in Downtown on July 1.
Helping to bring the early crowds was an opening night with a nod to one of the city’s own, a screening of award-winning filmmaker and Akron-native Jim Jarmusch’s’s vampire romance “Only Lovers Left Alive.” The Nightlight space is a draw too. In building the cinema, with support from Knight, Executive Director Steve Felix aimed to create a place that not just holds an audience but builds a community. The theater offers both stadium and café-style seating, snacks and a bar. Felix pipes in music between shows, to encourage people to come early and stay awhile after to discuss the screening.
With a few weeks under the theater’s belt, it seemed time to sit down with Felix, 32, and talk about the new enterprise’s history, goals and his hopes for film in Akron.
July 29, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Wandering Aesthetics may have the most intriguing show title at the moment: “Boogers, Witches and Haints.” The performance itself also was extremely well-received when Kyle Josza did his one-man storytelling event at the Standing Rock Cultural Arts facility in Kent, Ohio. Two more performances are scheduled for this coming weekend.
The show's subtitle, “Spooky Stories from Appalachia,” says it all. It was developed when Josza and Benjamin Rexroad, co-founders and directors of Wandering Aesthetics, hiked along nearly 2,200 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
July 23, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Playwright and performer Lucy Wang. Photo courtesy of the Akron Civic Theatre.
This post has been updated to reflect that Wang was not born in Akron but grew up there. Also, Mark Zimmerman invited her to teach a master class at Firestone High School, which is how they met.
When Chinese-American playwright Lucy Wang performs her one-woman show, “Chinese Girls Don’t Swear,” on Thursday evening, it won’t be her first time on the main stage of the Akron Civic Theatre. During a telephone interview from her Los Angeles residence, Wang, who grew up in Akron, said she appeared there many years ago, as a young dancer in a production of “The Nutcracker.”
July 15, 2015 by Roger Durbin
“Much Ado about Nothing” is actually about a lot. You’ll find that out when you see the fun-filled and splendid dramatic production by Ohio Shakespeare Festival of what has been called one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies.
With a little research, you can find out that the word “nothing” would have been pronounced as “noting” in the Bard’s day. The word connoted then notions of gossip, rumor, eavesdropping and the like. In this play, the word gets at the idea of using “noting” for trickery or, in political terms, treachery.
July 8, 2015 by Roger Durbin
"Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" Choreographed by: Ray Mercer
Dance performances in various outdoor venues during the summer months in Akron go back 42 years to when choreographer Heinz Poll took dancers from his professional dance company, the Ohio Ballet, and put on a free dance show in a plaza in downtown Akron.
Jane Startzman, who is festival director of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, remembers the event well. She danced in that very first performance. During a lunch interview with her, Startzman reminisced a bit about the development of summer dance in the city.
For that very first show, Startzman said that the ballet company borrowed wood through one of the crew members whose family owned a lumber yard. The dancers and crew built the stage, gave their performance, then tore the stage apart and returned the lumber.
Things changed quickly after that. David Lieberth, former deputy mayor of Akron, commented in a telephone interview that the city jumped in for the second year to help fund the summer performances by Ohio Ballet. Under city sponsorship, Startzman said, the ballet started performing in several parks around town. It even performed in nearby cities.
With the demise of the Ohio Ballet nine years ago, Jane Startzman and other dance leaders in the city got together and figured a way to continue the tradition with the help of the City of Akron. Their efforts produced the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, now in its ninth year. The festival is sponsored in part, said David Lieberth, through a Knight Arts grant.
When her group first started the summer dance festival, Startzman commented, they decided to support local professional dance companies in order to help generate audiences for the remainder of the year. The first year included four local companies in performances.
Subsequently, Startzman said, they decided to have “outside” companies perform. The idea was to expose local audiences to dance groups from other areas of the country that they might not otherwise get a chance to see. One example is from a few years ago when the distinguished New York City-based Martha Graham Dance Company performed as part of the festival.
Startzman commented that local companies like to bring new work to the festival. This year, for example, Neos Dance Theatre and GroundWorks DanceTheater will both be bringing new works. Neos will perform two company premieres (Hernando Cortez’s “Chichester Psalms” and Neos Artistic Director Bobby Wesner’s “Searching for the Find”). It will also present a world premiere of a currently untitled work by Joseph Morrissey. Finally, it will perform a recent work that the company has done by Penny Saunders called “Berceuse.” Neos Dance Theatre is a recent Knight Arts grantee and will kick off the festival with performances on July 24-25 in Firestone Park.
Neos Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre
August 11, 2015 by Roger Durbin
In 2011, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival received a two-year Knight Arts grant for a project called Rare Works by Shakespeare, the goal of which was to stage “Love's Labour's Lost” and “The History of Richard III.” Since then, the Akron, Ohio-based company has continued to favor the Bard's lesser-known works. Its current production of “Henry V” marks the end of another two-year project to present overlooked Shakespeare plays to local audiences.
For those not familiar with “Henry V,” the title character essentially sums up the plot with this proclamation: “No King of England if not King of France.”
August 26, 2015 by Roger Durbin
The title of “Build It,” an interactive exhibit at the Akron Art Museum, is not a direct reference to the old adage of “build it and they will come.” Metaphorically, however, that is precisely what this show does. One of the current, ongoing aims of the museum is to engage the community with its collection in innovative ways–an objective that is supported by a Knight Arts grant. And “Build It” speaks specifically to that goal.
According to the museum’s Director of Education, Alison Caplan, and its Associate Educator, Gina Thomas McGee, the Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation Gallery on the first level of the facility has recently been used for community-related, experimental ways of presenting parts of the collection. As McGee said in a walk-through interview, the exhibits to date have “always had a surprise” with them. She added that specifically they have had some “interactive component that is children- or family-centered.”
In “Build It,” floor space is dedicated to a collection of building blocks that can be used for creative play: Lincoln Logs, small magnetic pieces, larger-scale rubber shapes and the like. On the walls that surround this area are pieces of art from the museum’s collection depicting various architectural structures. As Caplan noted, the goal is for viewers to think about the idea of place.
September 4, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Even a brief bout of rain in the middle of the afternoon didn’t slow things down at this year’s Porch Rokr. The annual community music festival, which is sponsored by Knight Foundation, was held this past weekend on Aug. 29, drawing almost 10,000 people to Akron, Ohio’s Highland Square neighborhood, organizers said.
The day began with a lively opening ceremony at 10:15 a.m. as the Porch Rokr Guitar Orchestra performed for the early arrivals, and ended on the main stage on Merriman Road with headliners Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites–a local band that’s been described as the latest “northern soul dance craze.” In between, there were performances by more than 100 musical groups, which played at 14-15 different venues per hour. The bands performed on porches, lawns and the plazas that are sprinkled throughout Highland Square. As soon as you got out of ear shot of one musical group, you could hear the strains of the next one along an adjacent avenue.
September 18, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Mary Bridget Davies, a 2014 Tony Award nominee for best leading actress in a musical, will be performing at the Akron Civic Theatre on Sept. 19. Davies is appearing as part of The Club @ The Civic series, which involves a cabaret-style arrangement on the Knight Arts grantee’s main stage. In a telephone interview, the actress, singer and songwriter said she’ll be presenting new, original tunes that are part of an upcoming album.
Davies admitted that she is “happy to be doing” her own music, but she will also belt out a few Janis Joplin hits. She is closely associated with the late 1960s rock-and-roll personality because it is a part she has played more than once.
September 29, 2015 by Roger Durbin
It was a group of 13 young women who originally created the Tuesday Musical concert series in Akron, Ohio back in 1887. But it is a group of four young men, the Escher String Quartet, who will kick off its 2015-16 season: Adam Barnett-Hart (violin), Pierre Lapointe (viola), Brook Speltz (cello) and Aaron Boyd (violin) will perform at Akron’s E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on Sept. 30.
I spoke with Boyd via telephone for a preview of the performance, which he said will include Franz Schubert’s Quartet Movement in C minor; Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4, Op. 44, No. 2; and Alexander von Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 15.
April 23, 2015 by Roger Durbin
If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it. That could be a twist on the cooperative way that Akron Baroque, a Knight Arts grantee, goes about the business of planning concert programs. For the upcoming “Venetian Splendor” concert that will feature composers Tomaso Albinoni and Antonio Vivaldi, organist and harpsichordist Valerie Thorson took the collaborative lead in the upcoming concert. During a fun telephone interview with the enthusiastic Thorson, she provided lots of background information for the context and selection of the upcoming concert.
If you have ever wondered how musical venues take shape, here's at least one model. Momentously for Akron Baroque, the 13-15-member ensemble will, for the first time, work without a conductor. At the suggestion of Music Director Guy Bordo, the concert will be led by a player–in this case, violinist Alan Bodman. Bodman, as Thorson noted, is the concert master for the Akron Symphony Orchestra (also a Knight arts grantee), so he’s used to leading a group, if not conducting it.
April 30, 2015 by Roger Durbin
Jarrod Hartzler, executive director of Tuesday Musical, a Knight Arts grantee, recently announced his second programming schedule after taking the helm of the organization a couple of years ago. It seemed like a good time to sit down with him, discuss the direction he sees the organization and its performances going, and to take a look at what’s new for the 2015-2016 season. Jerrod Hartzler, executive director, Tuesday Musical. Photo courtesy of Tuesday Musical. During a sit-down interview with Hartzler, he talked about his different take on programming. Historically, Tuesday Musical focused on being a presenter of artists, often looking to the “cool and edgy,” as he put it. While that still remains a concern, Hartzler’s overriding theme is to “try and make arts relevant in the local area; to have a role more than presenter; [and] to work with artists in the creation and production of art and music.”
May 15, 2015 by Roger Durbin
The launch has begun! On the evening of Thursday, May 7, the Akron Art Museum hosted what it called a block party to celebrate the start of Inside|Out, a new community-activated project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that is bringing reproductions of the museum’s art into the city’s streets and beyond. A few hundred people (many of them children) came to the party, eager to listen to the live music, taste some of the local food and drink (and desert ices) provided, engage in art activities for all ages, and participate in guided tours of the museum galleries (including a gallery talk by Liz Carney on the opening of her new exhibition, “Staged Photographs”). Reproduction of Childe Hassam's "Bedford Hills" at Big Bend trailhead. Photo by Roger Durbin