I Needed That: CCM’s Birthday Cabaret

The Sappy Critic started several years ago as a place for me to write about theatre.  It has remained a blog (a fact that is disdainfully pointed out often by a handful of marketing directors) and so tonight this entry is very much blog-like. This post is all about me.  No apologies; it IS a blog after all.

Eight years ago or so, I had fallen in love with the local scene, not knowing just how many productions and theaters there were in Cincinnati until I met some of the musical theatre majors at Wright State University and CCM, who were performing at Kings Island in the the summer of 2010.  (One of those performers was a 16 year old high schooler named Raven Thomas; more on her in a minute.)

I became enamored instantly with it all.  JEKYLL & HYDE at Wright State was the first opportunity I had to really see what these schools and students could do.  OKLAHOMA! (featuring Pam Myers) at CCM was astounding.  Apart from a community theater production of ANNIE when I was in junior high, the only theatre I had seen were a couple of national tours at the Aronoff.  But through the connections I made with these kids I began to discover the life-changing amount of theatre there was in the region.

I met my friend, Jon Kovach, after seeing him perform in BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS at the Covedale and then seeing his solo show, NOTHING, at Miami University.  He introduced me to others, including the folks at the League of Cincinnati Theatres, which really allowed me to get my theatre-fix at a price I could afford.  I was writing about theatre and was really digging in, getting some traction for my blog, and eventually outgrew the LCT.

One year I saw 147 different productions, some of them more than once.  It’s rare that a week goes by that I’m not seeing a play or a musical – sometimes more than one.  It’s been super rewarding.  It’s been especially great connecting with so many new friends, some of which have become my closest confidants.

I’ve gotten to meet bona-fide Broadway stars.  I’ve seen some amazing productions.  I’ve seen a lot of shows that didn’t live up to their potential.  And I’ve seen some real clunkers. I appeared in a play. I took an acting class and performed in a showcase with one of my local theatre heroes.  And of course – the biggest highlight – I wrote a play that was workshopped and staged in front of real live audiences.

Lately, though, I’ve been discouraged.  Going to the theatre has felt more like work than it did when I started.  Coming home after a show and trying to find something new to say gets more difficult every time.   I try to remain positive about a show while keeping some integrity in terms of critical opinion; that gets harder and harder the more I’ve learned about the art of theatre.

Rude audiences are also getting harder to tolerate.  The other night I sat behind a woman and her daughter who videotaped the show and had lengthy conversations throughout.  When asked by multiple people to stop, they cussed us out.  Unfortunately, the mother had identified their relationship with someone in the cast . . . I’ve chosen not to publicly call them out but this sort of thing makes a show hard to sit through for me.

I have felt like I was at a crossroads this week.  Can I continue this pace?  I know that I can’t.  But how do I choose which shows to see and which ones not to?  How do I deal with this burnout?  What’s really causing it?

I think I know the answers to most of the above questions.  But the last one – the root cause of my frustration, desperation, my “theatre-depression” as it were – eluded me.

Until tonight.

Tonight I sat in Patricia Corbett Theatre at CCM and watched amazed, as a cavalcade of Broadway stars (like Ashley Brown, Lisa Howard, Faith Prince, Kristy Cates, Jan Hovrath, Jessica Hendy, Liz Pearce) come home to celebrate their alma mater, one of the places where I originally fell in love with theatre.  I listened to these performers sing with amazing technique. I watched them emote, getting lost in their lyrics and story of their songs. I saw Katie Johannigman, currently CCM faculty member, tap-dance her face off with a group of her male students.  I saw Raven Thomas, whom I have literally watched grow up on stage, tackle her ballad with such ferocity I barely remember that little girl who sang “Moving On Up” from “The Jefferson’s” so many years ago.  I watched Pam Myers perform with zest and charisma, like she did in OKLAHOMA when I first saw her and like I assume she did when she was cast in COMPANY fifty years ago.

I realized that when the quality of the show is this good it doesn’t feel like work at all.

I don’t have all the answers yet to how I’m going to proceed with my hobby of writing about theatre.  But I know that tonight’s cabaret has reignited much of the passion that I was afraid I’d lost. And for that I’m grateful.  Thank you to CCM, Aubrey Berg, Scott Coulter, the amazing Julie Spangler on piano, CCM Power, the sponsors of the cabaret (especially Doug Duckett, Brett Offenberger, and Jay and Bobbie Wittenbaum) and the cast of the CCM Birthday Cabaret for transforming my outlook this week and beyond.

I really needed it.

Kirk Sheppard is a theatre blogger, critic, playwright, and advocate.  He’s recently begun a podcast called “Conversations with Kirk Sheppard” where he sits down and talks to friends and strangers about projects, hobbies, and passions. You can reach him by email at kirksheppard@gmail.com.