Bringing Classical Theatre to the Cincinnati Stage
Photography provided by the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has captivated audiences with their interpretation of the Bard’s plays and classics from other authors season after season.
“I’ve met with a lot of other Shakespeare theaters around the country and having a theater like ours that has been around for 20 years is a pretty big deal,” said Jay Woffington, executive director of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in a 2014 interview with Venue Magazine. “I think a city like Cincinnati tends to talk about classical arts being the opera, ballet, and symphony. We keep saying the fourth leg of a classical arts table is a classical theater, and for us as a city, to have one that is well established and has been around doing great work for 20 years is pretty cool.”
And last year, they had a major accomplishment − the company became one of only five theaters in the United States to perform all 38 of Shakespeare plays.
“It is a pretty big deal among Shakespeare enthusiasts,” says Brian Isaac Phillips, producing artistic director of the company. “And I think it is a really big deal that Cincinnati’s art scene and theater-going community were able to support what has been in many ways a 20-year endeavor. It will be a major accomplishment not just for the company, but for the city.”
Contrary to its name, CSC performs more than just Shakespeare. The 2014-2015 season includes classics like “The Great Gatsby” and “The Birds" while previous seasons have included "Oliver Twist," "Of Mice and Men" and “The Crucible”.
Remaining shows in the company’s 2015 season are “Little Women” from Feb. 20 to Mar. 21, “The Taming of the Shrew” from Apr. 3 to 25, “Henry V” from May 8 to 30 and “One Man, Two Guvnors” from Jun. 12 to Jul. 5.
The productions are performed by the company’s talented resident ensemble of about 20 actors. This too is unique to CSC. The actors are signed for a yearlong contract; many of them return season after season, resulting in a low turnover rate. In the past 10 years, the company has relocated nearly 120 actors to Cincinnati.
“I think the interesting part for the patrons is they get to know the actors. They get to see them grow over time in different roles,” Woffington says.
Phillips adds, “It is a greater challenge that we are asking our actors to be able to play many different roles, be versatile in a course of season, but I think it also helps our loyal patrons develop an appreciation for how much craft and imagination goes into acting. Our actors aren’t just being cast to play themselves or their type – they are being asked to play a wide range of characters over the course of hopefully many years, often playing six different roles in 40 weeks.”
For Woffington and Phillips, CSC is about more than the art – it is about combining art with business savvy to create a world-class theater that has become a staple in the Greater Cincinnati arts community.
“We grew 30 percent last year – we talk about those things, we talk about the business side of it, and I think that is an important thing because not only does it create a sustainable arts organization, but it allows for sustainable growth,” says Woffington.
“I’ve always felt that it is important to keep your audience in mind when you’re thinking about what the programing and what the playbill will be made of,” Phillips says. “That is the other participant in the art form; we aren’t doing this just for us. If we aren’t thinking ‘Well what do people want to see? What do they not want to see? How can we gain their trust so that they will eventually want to see ‘Two Noble Kinsmen’ after doing 10 years of more of the more obscure Shakespeare plays?’
“It translates into ticket sales, but a lot of it has to do with trying to understand what your loyal base is interested in seeing and what are they bringing to the conversation. If you ignore that you can get in trouble when you don’t think about what the audience side of the equation is and that has always been very important to us.”
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is located at 719 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For ticket information you can reach them at 513.381.2273, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at www.cincyshakes.com.