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WATER WAYS, devised theater at Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

Cleveland Public Theatre is sometimes referred to as an off-Playhousequare theatre for its continued probing of non-traditional script choices and presentation styles.  It’s the place that did an age-blind version of OUR TOWN, a play which paralleled southern slavery with the Holocaust and added a gay twist, presented a one-man diatribe about the Cleveland Browns, and was recognized by the Cleveland Critics Circle in its 2012 awards for “Outstanding Commitment to Multi-dimensional Theater Production and Education.”

CPT’s latest offering follows the trend of local theatre organizations combining to produce productions.  Playhouse Square has reached out to Baldwin Wallace’s Musical Theatre Program, Cleveland Play House has coupled with Case Western Reserve’s Master of Fine Arts program, PlayhouseSquare has reached out to the Great Lakes Theatre, and now there is Oberlin College and Conservatory and CPT doing collaborative works.

The first in a series of CPT/Oberlin experiences, which will probe various physical and personal topics,  centers on water

WATER WAYS (Part One of the Elements Cycle) was developed through use of the “devised theatre” technique.  It does not follow the usual theatrical pattern of a playwright penning a script, a director formatting an understanding of the written piece, and then working with actors to bring the writer’s words and ideas to life.  Instead, devised theatre, much like the “happenings” popular in the 1960s and 70s, creates a staged piece based on a theme concept in a collaborative method which combines input from the performers, the directors and whoever’s creativity is needed.  Often, and this is paramount in the CPT/Oberlin production, the word is only one of many devices used to create the whole.

In the case of WATER WAYS, live music, recorded music, dance, vaudeville, projections, art, lighting, costumes, and museum installations add to the spoken and chanted words.

The work was created by the cast (Oberlin College and Conservatory students), the directors, and members of the Oberlin College and Conservatory Oasis Faculty, during OASIS, a semester-long program of intensive study.  Students learned to create work in a guided process calling upon their creativity, dance, music and theatrical talents.  In the process they traveled to international and local performances to observe the creation process.

Audience members experience the exposition section of the work in the main CPT theatre, then physically move to four different parts of the theatre’s complex, then back to the main theatre for the conclusion.

Those wanting a traditional story line of clear beginning, middle, and end will be disappointed.  This is a much more abstract, creative process which not only lets the performers devise, but allows the audience to wander through words, music and electronic effects, to carve out each person’s own meanings, within the boundaries of the subject matter.

Yes, this is the story of water.  In this case, the resulting desert is created, for example, when a body of water like Lake Eric dries up.  Some remember the pleasure of swimming in the water.  Others the glee of free water.  Still others yearn for the digging of a well to recreate the lake.  Some are doom-sayers, other yearn for the return of the water and are willing to work toward that goal.  Superstitions, myths, legends, and reality all blend together in an often mind-boggling way.

There are no actors or dancers or leads, per se.  There are beings who perform varying visual and vocal functions, interwoven with singers and dancers,  musicians and visual elements that create the whole.

Capsule judgement: WATER WAYS (PART ONE OF THE ELEMENTS CYCLE is a unique theatrical experience which uses a devised theatre approach to create a fascinating multi-leveled message centered on “water.”

WATER WAYS (PART ONE OF THE ELEMENTS CYCLE runs through January 24-February 4, 2013.  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to