Artists declare the city will be their stage on Saturday for drive-in performances around Cleveland

All the world may be a stage in Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It,” but with COVID-19, there currently aren’t many physical stages to choose from.

Northeast Ohio’s thriving arts scene has been quieted with new guidelines and social distancing recommendations, and many venues have been limited or completely closed.

<span class="content-image-text">Jennifer Sandoval Eccher and her daughter Sophia of Marquez Dance Project practicing in their backyard for the performance.</span>Jennifer Sandoval Eccher and her daughter Sophia of Marquez Dance Project practicing in their backyard for the performance.So, three performance arts specialists decided to make Cleveland their stage, and take guests on a tour of performances throughout the city.

This Saturday, Aug. 15, more than 25 area artists and groups will create “The City is Our Stage” with more than 20 performances.

“At this time, it was a good opportunity as a collective to come together to think of new ways to create,” explains Trad Burns, one of the three artists who designed the event. “[It’s] a time to reinvent ourselves—performance art is not a solo effort.”

The other two artists and founders of The City is Our Stage are Sarah Morrison, director of MorrisonDance, and technical and stager designer Chuck Karnak.

The performance locations are a secret, but the ensemble promises to take their artistic travelers on an engaging adventure through a variety of Cleveland neighborhoods to discover a mystery bag of site-specific artistic performances from the comfort of their cars.

Once a ticket is purchased, event organizers will provide audience members with a map and schedule of the drive-up performances.

Attendees will experience six to seven different performances of varying styles, having no idea what type of performance awaits. The entire experience lasts about two hours, including short travel times between performances.

<span class="content-image-text">The Welcome Table</span>The Welcome TableBurns, Morrison, and Karnak have worked together at various events throughout Cleveland and have assembled singers, dancers, actors, musicians, aerialists, and performance artists across 26 different locations for Saturday’s event.

Many of the performers chose the locations of their performances.

“With the switch to virtual classes and meetings, we wanted an event that would tap into the human connection of space and time” says Morrison, adding that she understands how important arts engagement is to the region. “I love Cleveland and we wanted to capture as much of the community as possible.”

All three event founders know the stress of being out of work—especially during a pandemic with no way of knowing when live performances with resume.

Burns, who has a background in production design, says he has the insight to help create an event that will bring people together, safely.

“Not knowing when we can go back to work is really scary,” he says. “But the arts community as a whole has been reaching out to each other to provide not only comfort, but resources.”

Karnak completes the team by providing technical expertise in stage design, lighting, and production, and he has regularly worked on IngenuityFest.

Burns, Morrison, and Karnak say they think they have created a unique event that they hope will spread to other cities.

“We want the audience to know we are still here, and we want to create for you,” says Burns.

<span class="content-image-text">Kenya Woods</span>Kenya WoodsTalise Campbell, artistic director and founder of Djapo Cultural Arts Institute, says her troupe of 10 performers will take a stage Saturday with drums, song, and dance.

“Due to COVID we have cancelled performances throughout Cleveland and even overseas,” Campbell says. “[Our scheduled] Cuba, London, and Germany performances have all been cancelled.”

Campbell started Djapo with the idea of preserving the art, music, dance, history, and folklore of Africa and works with both adults in children. She says she hopes City is Our Stage will bring people together and provide a sense of hope.

“Children have been impacted emotionally and with their socialization,” she says. “It saddens me but I am trying to be optimistic.”

Visual artists Laura D'Alessandro, Tou Cha, June Hund, and Norbert Ziebold will present “Hands of the Future,” a visual art and puppet performance. “It is about hope, connection and the power to create,” Says D'Alessandro. “I found this idea for the socially distanced performances to be a wonderfully creative challenge for us. It has been fun and inspiring. I love feeling the spark of energy that the other artists/performers give.”

Tickets are $40 per car and can be purchased for East Side, West Side, Downtown, or a "Surprise Me” starting locations. The rain date is Sunday, Aug. 16.

With the purchase of a ticket, location and time information will be delivered.

Rebecca Groynom
Rebecca Groynom

About the Author: Rebecca Groynom

Rebecca Groynom is a freelance writer, photographer, and resident of Cleveland Heights. In addition to writing for Fresh Water Cleveland, she has been published in several scientific journals, and her photography has been showcased in exhibitions throughout the US.