There’s something so very human about going to the theater and there’s definitely something special about going to the theater district in Cleveland.  I consider it an experience-sometimes simply for entertainment, for the beauty of going, or to learn something. The theater takes me away, and more often than not I’m moved by some part of the play I’m watching. Art, theater, music, and dance are ways that we as humans are able to express what we’re thinking or feeling. We express all sides of our humanity through the arts, I believe art really does mimic life. Oscar Wilde takes it one step further in saying: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Our theater district is the second-largest performing arts complex in the U.S., and one of my absolute favorite theaters lies right in the heart of that district. The Hanna Theater is home to the Great Lakes Theater which is Northeast Ohio’s professional classical theater since 1962 and is also one of the nation’s pre-eminent regional theaters. The theater company moved from the Ohio Theater into the beautifully restored and historic Hanna Theater in 2008 and saw a 30% increase in attendance as a result of the move. The following year they hoped patrons would continue to frequent the theater, and they held onto an impressive half of that growth-15%. The fall season included The Taming of the Shrew and Cabaret, and there was a 17% increase in attendance over the same time period last season. Growth continued throughout the winter, and advance ticket sales for spring shows (The Mousetrap and Romeo & Juliet) are already high. 


Today I met with GLT’s Chris Fornadel, Audience Engagement Manager, at the Hanna Theater, and found out a few more reasons why GLT is, in my opinion, a gem in the arts community of Cleveland. The folks there really do foster and encourage engagement with the community that only add to the experience of going to the theater. I saw The Complete Works of Shakespeare and it was a Sunday afternoon which happened to be Ice Cream Social Sunday at the Hanna (a London tradition). Head to the theater on a Thursday night and it might be Salon Thursday which means you can enjoy a 30-minute pre-show discussion with an artist before showtime. Maybe you would rather go to Happy Hour Friday to grab a beverage and appetizers before the show gets rolling. Nightcap Saturdays give show-goers a fun chance to meet the cast post-show, sip on a nightcap, and listen to live music. Gone are the days of walking in the door, picking up your tickets and heading straight to your seat. Going to the GLT offers you more than just the show. It offers you an experience. 

Aside from all of these social options, Chris shared with me that he’s scheduling wonderful pre-show discussions/performance events like Mysteries Solved: A Conversation with Les Roberts before the March 23 production of The Mousetrap. Cleveland author, Les Roberts, has written 23 novels and co-hosts the radio show, Greenlight Reviews. Perhaps a panel discussion before Romeo & Juliet on April 27th entitled Science of Attraction: What’s Love Got to Do with It? might also be of interest to you. The panelists include: Dr. Stephen Levine, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Mary Ann Raghanti, Professor of Anthropology at Kent State University and Dr. Linda Spurlock, Director of Health at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Chris also shared with me that during the fall season two successful panel discussions were held in conjunction with Othello and Cabaret. Othello offered a discussion on racial diversity, and Cabaret had a pre-show discussion on LGBT issues. All of these panel discussions are educational, open to the community, and the hope is to create connections to the classics in people’s everyday lives. The Great Lakes Theater’s engagement work goes beyond social options and panel discussions and extends into the community through free performances as part of The Surround Program, and into the schools as part of their Theater Education Program.

I’ve been a supporter of the Great Lakes Theater for quite some time, but now I’m thoroughly impressed. Their commitment to education, community engagement and outreach is coupled with a careful selection of productions that will undoubtedly keep audiences coming back to the Hanna for years to come. I know I will return to see productions written by William Shakespeare and other playwrights, and will continue to enjoy the arts as a true expression of our humanity. Shakespeare said it best: “I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

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Copyright © 2012 Emily Cole; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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