The Art of Engaging in NEO’s Theater Scene

With over 65 active theatre companies, not to mention the country’s largest performing arts center outside of New York, Northeast Ohio has plenty to offer theatre fans.

It’s not just what’s on stage that draws in audiences. From behind-the-scenes tours to community theatre auditions, the region’s arts organizations are often finding ways to engage with us beyond the footlights.

Engagement programs, like Cleveland Play House’s Gen.NOW, $25under35 and InsideCPH series, give audience members unique social experiences while learning more about the shows and theatres in Northeast Ohio.

Engagement starts with education. Northeast Ohio’s theatres have taken great steps to enhance the audience experience — offering opportunities to learn about the playwright’s inspiration, the time and place a production is set in, or how a show relates to the community.

When the Cleveland Play House made its move to downtown Cleveland in 2011, a new home wasn’t the only change America’s first regional theatre made to reach new audiences. One of only two positions like it in the country, the addition of an Artistic Associate – Engagement position provided a unique opportunity for CPH.

Unlike similar roles that have a marketing purpose, CPH’s Engagement position is first and foremost artistically focused — to create new relationships through education and engagement activities, regardless of whether someone purchases a ticket.

This includes all of their InsideCPH programming, such as free pre-show conversations before every subscription performance, Behind-the-Scenes events, Tech Nights, and the CPH Script Club to engage with young Clevelanders.

For 17 years, the North Canton Playhouse has used performances about social issues to reach over 241,000 students in Northeast Ohio. Their Arts for All program provides individuals of all ages with disabilities access to theatrical programs and productions. The North Canton Playhouse has performed over 1,100 times, adding a satellite facility in Chagrin Falls at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre.

Players Guild Theatre in Canton offers a pre-show All Access pass, which gives audiences a chance to meet a show’s cast, tour sets, learn about costuming, and celebrate with other theatre goers.

When the theatre bug bites, sometimes the only cure is to get involved. 

Many community theatres in Northeast Ohio, such as Youngstown Playhouse, rely on volunteers to help backstage, in the box office, and around the theatre during performances.  While volunteers are invaluable to these organizations, volunteering likewise provides a unique learning opportunity for members of the community – showing them how a theatre comes together each night to put on a show.

The Weathervane Playhouse in Akron has taken its volunteer program one step further with the creation of a Volunteer Guild. The organization connects volunteers with Playhouse leadership and organizes events throughout the year for its members.

Cleveland’s Near West Theatre has championed neighborhood growth and social justice for over 30 years.  Guided by theatre professionals, Near West has built an inter-generational community company ranging across all ages, social/economic backgrounds, and theatre experience.

Near West Theatre

One unique feature of its program is its audition process. Instead of preparing a monologue, anyone can show up to auditions where they’re led through group acting, movement, and improvisational exercises – collaborating to build a strong sense of community before rehearsals even begin.

Near West’s production crew volunteer program and Community Work Days provide hands-on opportunities for those who would prefer to stay backstage. It’s all part of their mission: “Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Theatre.”

Cleveland Play House

Some of Northeast Ohio’s theatres have even inspired cooperative engagement programming with other arts organizations.

For instance, when ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ exhibit came to the Cleveland Museum of Art in spring 2013, the museum hosted performances of Theater Ninjas’ The Excavation in the Ames Family Atrium. The production complemented the exhibit’s themes with a choose-your-own-adventure-style theatre experience.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on Northeast Ohio theatre, here are a few resources:


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When she’s not blogging at about the places and events that make her #happyinCLE, Amanda Hicken stays busy as a Media Relations Manager at PR Newswire and board member of PlayhouseSquare and Cleveland Foodbank’s young professionals groups. Follow her on Twitter @ADHicken and LinkedIn at

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