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Becoming Unbalanced

Company seeks to create new opportunities in the Columbus theater scene Seriously, when was the last time drinking a lot of wine gave you a really good idea? An idea that might even change your community? “We’ve been getting together once a month, reading plays out loud, drinking wine, and talking about what we want [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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Company seeks to create new opportunities in the Columbus theater scene

Seriously, when was the last time drinking a lot of wine gave you a really good idea? An idea that might even change your community?

“We’ve been getting together once a month, reading plays out loud, drinking wine, and talking about what we want to do,” said Catherine Cryan Erney. “There is a whole mindset that we want to tip… because we know the talent’s there.”

I’m sitting at Starbucks with Cryan Erney, joined by April Olt and Sonda Staley, the pussyhatters of Columbus theater. We’re all sober, and ready to talk about the plans of The Tipping Point Theatre, a new theater company dedicated to creating opportunities for writers, directors, and performers who are female, older, of color, or perhaps all of the above.

“One of the reasons we started reading plays as a group together is because we noticed that there were a lot more opportunities in Columbus theater for men than women, and we actually created a spreadsheet and looked at that,” said Staley.

The group crunched the numbers of the Theatre Roundtable members for the 2015-2016 season and found some depressing statistics: more than 100 roles more for men than women, fewer roles for women over 30 than men over 30, fewer leading roles for women, and very few shows written by women. The issues were compounded by the fact that women make up a much larger share of the theatrical talent pool. While many community theaters seemed to offer more diverse opportunities, it is a less practical option for those who need to be paid for their work.

In the capital city, known for its tolerance and diversity, this information was unsettling, to say the least.

“We are not showing on stage the demographics of what is America, or even what is Columbus,” says Olt, who noted that outside of the August Wilson Festival at the Short North Stage, no shows by African-American playwrights were produced within two seasons, and the season offered only three roles specifically written for actors of color. As theater artists and as audience members, The Tipping Point questions whether economics is reinforcing the types of shows being produced—good shows, but shows that don’t provide as many opportunities for women or people of color.

“Why are we paying to not see our stories told?” asks Olt. “Look at Broadway. We’ve gone backwards because we’re spending more money on shows. So the fact that it wasn’t until 2016 that you had your first all-female artistic and production team of a musical is telling.”

So, how did get we here?

“All the theaters in Columbus are and have been predominantly managed by men,” says Olt.

“80 percent, 90 percent of shows are directed by men,” says Cryan Erney.

“I don’t think it’s malicious,” Staley interjects.

“It just happened that way,” Olt concludes.

This is Tipping Point’s real-life call to action.

“Rather than just sit around and drink wine and bitch,” explained Staley. “We decided, as women do, to change the playing field. We wanted to be the change that we needed in the Columbus theater community.”

So this January, The Tipping Point got out of the living room and onto the boards with a staged reading of two works by female playwrights featuring all-female casts: Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming, and Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women.

“[The Women] shows the darkness of our history, that when we can’t get what we want, women have been historically pitted against each other, which is thematically what we want to do in the world of theater,” Staley explained. “We don’t want women fighting for the same two or three roles. We want to open up the opportunities so we work together.”

So, where is this going?

“Fiscal viability,” says Olt.

“Fiscal viability!” everyone cheers.

“We want to—first and foremost—do really good theatre,” Staley adds.

“We want juicy, satisfying roles,” Cryan Erney says.

Women have faced discrimination in theater since being forbidden from appearing on stage in the first chapter of classical theater history, but The Tipping Point is not a “No Boys Allowed” club. Despite their frustrating experiences of having to audition for male directors in hotel rooms, or having their appearances deemed “inappropriate” for certain roles, these women have a passion for the theater arts, and they’re not going anywhere.

And they hope that they can inspire other companies to make similar changes. (They give a special shout out to The Actor’s Theatre of Columbus, a classical theater company, for its strides towards gender parity—particularly with its gender-bending production of The Countess of Monte Cristo last summer.)

“We believe that our mission shouldn’t just be ours—that it should make everybody around us think about doing things a little bit differently,” says Olt.

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Arts Fest Preview: See BalletMet live outdoors!

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BalletMet’s Friday night’s headline performance at 8:30 p.m. at the Arts Festival is sure to be a highlight of weekend. One of the nation’s top 20 largest professional companies, BalletMet consists of dancers hailing from across the nation and the world and boasts a premiere academy for aspiring professional dancers, one that’s been recognized as an institution of local and national stature.

Since 1978, BalletMet has brought incredible dance to theaters in Central Ohio and beyond and their commitment to bringing dance to the Columbus community, especially in underserved areas, is unparalleled.

Art of War Photo by Jen Zmuda

From in-school programs to theater field trips, scholarships and free performances, the company is dedicated to making dance accessible to all. More than 10,000 children attend the company’s Morning at the Ballet field trip performances each year. And thanks to a grant from PNC Arts Alive, BalletMet’s second company, BalletMet 2, has performed at free events at the King Arts Complex, Franklin Park Conservatory and more, throughout the 2018-19 season.

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In addition to the free performance at the Arts Festival BalletMet will perform at Dance on Dakota on Friday, May 10, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Franklinton. This performance is also free.

Dance on Dakota, co-hosted by Franklinton Arts District, is part of a weekend-long block party in Franklinton and features free food and drink and a collaborative performance with TRANSIT ARTS. The event will take place at Dakota Ave. and Town St.

Dancers Grace Anne Powers and William Newton Photo by Jen Zmuda

BalletMet’s Columbus Arts Festival performance will include a mixed repertoire of shorter pieces from its past productions and will be preceded by music from DJ Donnie M. of Damn Girl.

And if these performances capture your interest, the company recently announced its 2019-20 season, which includes ALICE, based on the later stories of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, Twisted 3, a collaboration with the Columbus Symphony and Opera Columbus, and, of course, The Nutcracker.

More info at www.balletmet.org. For all your Arts Festival details visit www.colubmusartsfestival.org

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Arts Fest Preview: You wood hate to miss local crafter

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Woodworker and Art Makes Columbus featured artist Devon Palmer has been working with his hands since his upbringing in northeast Indiana. His mother a wood carver and his father a carpenter and cabinet maker, Palmer took a more mechanical route by obtaining his pilot’s license and attending Purdue University to pursue a career as an airplane mechanic.

But as his career transitioned from maintenance to the tech field, he yearned to work with his hands again. Originally he considered pottery, before a class he planned to attend got canceled. But a trip home the weekend before Thanksgiving led to his father introducing him to woodturning.

That was more than 15 years ago. And though he is largely self-taught, Palmer also credits local woodturners from the Central Ohio Woodturners (a chapter of the American Association of Woodturners) for taking him under their wing. In 2005, he opened his first studio just north of Downtown, and in 2007 he began teaching woodturning at Woodcraft Columbus.

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Today, Palmer does a bit of mentoring of his own. He teaches classes in blade and bowl turning, resin cast pen turning and more advanced projects like hollow vessel turning in his studio at the Idea Foundry. He is also adding a series of LGBTQ date night pen turning classes to his growing schedule of classes, shows and demonstrations.

Palmer says his work represents “family and connectedness” with work ranging from salad bowls and laser engraved pens to funerary urns and ornaments. The details in his hand-crafted tableware and home goods manage to invoke a warm sense of community, fellowship, and hospitality.

Devon Palmer works in internet technology and is also a pianist and ordained minister.

Make your own wood turned pen with Devon Palmer at the Columbus Arts Festival, June 7-9, at the Big Local Art Village located at the Festival’s Franklinton entrance. Learn more about Devon at www.columbusmakesart.com/stories/devon-palmer and get all your Arts Festival details at www.columbusartsfestival.org

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Arts Festival Preview: Dr. E uses voice to overcome adversity

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Dr. E, singer-songwriter and author Cleveland-born singer-songwriter Dr. Elaine Richardson — known by her stage name Dr. E — has used her voice to detail the incredible circumstances she encountered while overcoming great adversity. Born to a musician father and Jamaican immigrant mother, Dr. E begun tapping into her talent while singing in church, her school’s choir, and in girl groups.

Dr. E continued to sing despite the difficult path she faced. As a teen, she became a sex trafficking victim and fell into addiction. In her recovery, she pursued higher education at Cleveland State University and Michigan State University. During this time Dr. E also began performing as the frontwoman for a number of cover bands and placing her original music on various TV shows. She recorded her first album, “Elevated,” in 2010.

Dr. E’s introspective song lyrics reflect the often difficult process of healing while defending those who share her experiences or face exploitation and discrimination in other ways.

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On her sophomore album, 2017’s “Songs for the Struggle,” she gives a soulful retelling of her journey from sex trafficking survivor to university professor, Ph.D., author and advocate. Blending elements of soul, rock, funk, rhythm and blues, and jazz, Dr. E sings with an astonishing amount of hope and positivity; Though the album details the trauma and exploitation experienced by Dr. E during her teen years, her power message ultimately expresses affirmations of self-love and acceptance employed with an equally powerful and joyous voice.

Dr. E is currently a professor of literacy studies in the College of Education at The Ohio State University. She has written a number of books on African American literature as well as a memoir, “PHD to Ph.D.: How Education Saved My Life.”

See Dr. E. perform at the Columbus Arts Festival, Saturday, June 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Big Local Stage on Rich St.

For hours, artist listing and all Festival information go to www.columbusartsfestival.org

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