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Stage Right

Conservative Theater in Columbus sets the stage for debate Remember when theater legend David Mamet “came out” in 2008? Not as gay, but as conservative. Well, in a theatrical universe largely populated by the left—where an openly conservative voice is rare—it was huge news. Somewhere, Robert Cooperman was applauding. With the last year’s drama-filled Presidential [...]
Laura Dachenbach

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Conservative Theater in Columbus sets the stage for debate

Remember when theater legend David Mamet “came out” in 2008?

Not as gay, but as conservative. Well, in a theatrical universe largely populated by the left—where an openly conservative voice is rare—it was huge news.

Somewhere, Robert Cooperman was applauding.

With the last year’s drama-filled Presidential campaign as his mise-en-scène, the Dublin native set off on an ambitious project: to put plays from the right on stage, and give audiences a new challenge.

Inspired by a similar festival in Philadelphia, Cooperman, an adjunct professor of English and Theater at Ohio University-Lancaster, put out a national call for scripts in July and received 38. Six short scripts were selected for the festival, held for an evening last January. Cooperman hopes to repeat the festival sometime next year under the moniker of Stage Right Theatrics.

(614) recently talked with Cooperman about theater and politics, and what future conservative theater might have in Columbus.

What is conservative theater? Does a play have to express a political viewpoint to be conservative?
[Conservative theater] expresses a view, for example, that there is a higher being than just us—that we are not our own gods. It expresses the value that there is one law of the land, and that is the Constitution and that’s what we need to be following. That there is such a thing as human nature—which is why communism and socialism don’t work, because it goes against human nature. We’re trying to be celebratory of success. We don’t like labels on people. We like to say that we’re all Americans. Conservative theater celebrates, in some way, those kinds of values. We’re currently in our infancy and we’re writing satire. I’d like to see plays get developed more, and actually grapple with those issues. For me, conservative theater will have to evolve. We can’t just always be satire and parody.

What’s the conservative’s response to watching a musical like Rent, or a play like Greater Tuna, which portrays rural, small-town residents as willfully ignorant? Can you overcome politics to see performances?
Conservatives go to the theater…and they see us being ridiculed in that way. There’s this superficial and stereotypical view of what we are. We go to the theater and we see this; we tend not to go to the theater, then. So we go to musicals where nobody’s offended, or Shakespeare. As a result, we’re not represented in the theater very often.

You’re Jewish. I recall you writing a short script about the frustrations of being a politically conservative Jew. Tell me about that.
I come from New York. We were all Jews where I come from, so we shared that. When you move to Central Ohio, you don’t see as many Jews. They are here, but you don’t see them. What tends to happen is that you leave your comfortable environment, and you become more of what you were. So I left New York, where I never attended temple—none of my friends went to temple, or very few. I come to Ohio and the first thing I did was join a temple because you want to seek camaraderie with people. But I have become disillusioned with it because the rabbis are…proselytizing for a particular political cause—and that’s not why I go to temple. And I actually discussed it with one of the rabbis there, and his response was, “Well that’s who I am and that’s what I’m going to do.” [My response was,] “Okay, then I’m leaving.” It’s different to be a conservative Jew, but at this point in my life, I’m not seeking others. I’m just seeking like-minded conservatives of any religious stripe.

Considering that Columbus, like most urban centers, leans to the left, who do you see as your audience?
Twofold. One, the easy answer: I’d like to see conservatives as the audience—people who feel that the theater is not for them. I want for people who don’t normally go to the theater to come out and see some theater. The other thing is I want people who don’t agree with us to come out and see what we’re all about. Just to see another point of view.

We’ve found a real political divide between rural/small town and urban America. Since urban America produces most of our playwrights, might government funding of the local arts in smaller town theaters help a conservative voice take hold? What do you think of potential cuts or elimination of federal funding for the arts?
I think that’s left to local governments, and I have no problem at all if a local government wanted to fund the arts, but the [National Endowment for the Arts], I don’t know. I love PBS as much as everybody else, but I don’t know if the [federal] government should be in the business of doing that. I don’t see anywhere in the Constitution that says the government shall fund the arts. Let the community, let the people, let the corporations, let the state or the city do that.

Your mantra is, “Disagreement doesn’t equal hate.” Do you think audiences are in a place where they can be open-minded about politically themed theater?
I do think people have that capacity. They have to go in with the mindset of, “I’m here to listen.” [People] come in with a predetermined idea of what they’re going to see. That was true for the festival. But they stayed. I will tell you that.

To submit a script or find out more, visit conservativefestivaloh.com.

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Arts & Culture

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 & Culture

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 & Culture

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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