When both Lucia Colombi-Cosentino and her twin-sister Licia Columbi, the founders of Cleveland’s Ensemble Theatre died, the prediction was for the demise of the theatre as well. Well, the pall bearers were wrong. Instead of fading away, Ensemble is back, and not only stronger than ever, but looking for a larger part in the area’s theatre firmament.
The theatre’s new Artistic Director, Celeste Cosentino, is the daughter of Lucia. As she puts it, “Ensemble was my incubator.” She was often brought to the theatre, which was then located in the Civic in Cleveland Heights. Her babysitters were the theatre’s actors and technicians. She intends to keep her heritage not only alive, but thriving.
After 18 years at the Civic in Cleveland Heights, the rental cost was raised beyond what the theatre could afford. The troupe became a tenant of the Cleveland Play House. This year, with CPH moving into their new home at the Allen Theatre in downtown Cleveland, the old facility was closed, and Ensemble was homeless.
Recently, Ensemble made an arrangement with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education to rent space in the closed Coventry Elementary School. They retrofit a thrust theatre into the former gymnasium space. The present lease goes until the end of December and plans are to sign another 2-year agreement. According to Cosentino, if a long term arrangement can be worked out, the theatre plans to go on a capital fund raising project to further develop the facilities and expand their programming.
Ensemble has a history of proving that the arts are an essential and meaningful part of life; therefore, the theatre offers an important forum for stimulating and provoking thought about the issues of contemporary life, and it is a place for communal experience. It is under that umbrella that Cosentino, and her newly constituted board, are looking forward to continuing to produce vital and important theatrical works.
Their recent production of Clifford Odets’s 1930 labor play, WAITING FOR LEFTY, is a script that is as relevant today as it was back then in light of the attacks on labor unions by some state governments and governors. As part of their WAITING FOR LEFTY production, talk back discussions were held to discuss Ohio issue 2, which proposed to eliminate the anti-union bill voted in by the state legislature. The attendance was excellent and the play received positive reviews.
What’s in the future? Cosentino hopes that Ensemble will continue their present programs, such as Stagewrights, a group of writers and interested people who meet on Wednesdays of each week to create and develop new works. In addition, there are plans to continue their children and youth workshops. There will be a New Plays Festival (the scripts will be those developed by the Stagewrights) and talks are underway to develop interactive relationships with other theatre companies. There is a desire to develop Ensemble into an all-inclusive arts facility, much like Beck Center and Lakeland Center for the Arts to not only do theatrics, but also reach out to the other arts.
The 2011-2112 productions will include: ST. NICHOLAS (Conor McPherson); A SONG FOR CORETTA (Pearl Cleage), LOWER NINTH (Beau Willimon), THE COLOMBI NEW PLAYS FESTIVAL (DANCING WITH N.E.D. by Tyler Whidden, DESTROYING THE LIGHT by Sasha Thackaberry, GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL by Cindy Dettelbach); and GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES (Rajiv Joseph). Joseph is the author of Ensemble’s highly praised spring production, HUCK AND HOLDEN.
Cosentino believes that theatre has, through words, the power to make change. She intends to guide Ensemble to be a vehicle to help make that change.
For information about Ensemble Theatre go to: www.ensemble-theatre.com