GREEN Community theater, in general, benefits the audiences it serves in innumerable ways, in both a civic and cultural sense. Likewise, the opportunities offered to nascent actors and directors can be equally rewarding.
Yet, there are precious few community theater level outlets for the aspiring playwright.
Still, there are times when such opportunities present themselves in the most practical of ways – necessity truly being the mother of invention after all.
"I was supposed to be directing a musical, but as we went through the process, we were finding no musical directors," Alex Nine, the playwright behind Theatre 8:15’s production of "9 By Nine," which will be staged at 8:15 p.m. Nov. 4-5; 11-12 and 18-19 at the 4740 Massillon Road theater. "(Theater owner and director) Dawna (Kornick) and I had talked about doing some of these plays, at no cost, and while we were throwing possible titles out, I said ‘9 by Nine’ might be cool’."
While the suggestion solved the immediate missing music director problem, the fact that Nine only had six scripts completed presented quite another conundrum.
"So I wrote three in about a week," Nine laughed.
Making recent history
Founded in 1989 by Richard R. Moore and Fred T. McWhorter, Theatre 8:15 grew to become one of the busiest in the area, staging as many as six performances a season, with productions ranging from Shakespeare to its popular annual Halloween spin-off of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
But Moore’s death, followed unexpectedly and quickly by McWhorter’s in 2012, began an equally rapid descent for the studio. Shortly after taking over the reins, former Ohio Community Theatre Association president Kornick was forced to undergo major spinal surgery.
Over the past year, with Kornick recovered and a focus on youth theater – including productions staged by more than 40 young actors and directors - Theatre 8:15’s resurrection of sorts has been remarkable.
"What’s keeping us going in the children’s shows and (our presence in) the schools – Green, Coventry, Jackson and Manchester – and now we’re moving on now to (soliciting) membership," Kornick said before adding with a grin. "We’ve been back ‘alive’ for one year, without neck surgeries or anything."
Proving ground for new playwrights
While there is an obvious cost savings for theaters willing to stage productions by local playwrights, Kornick said most theaters are reluctant to take a chance on an unproven work and less of a guarantee of decent ticket sales – particularly with theater boards to answer to.
Against this backdrop, Theatre 8:15 has - albeit unofficially – positioned itself as an incubator of sorts for local playwrights. Meanwhile, daring productions like "9 By Nine" present a number of exciting challenges for its directors and cast.
"I direct a play about once every four years, but I’ve known Alex for 15 years and he is one of my best friends," said "9 By Nine" co-director Greg Bealer. "I think it was important for him to find somebody he could trust, and what I like about these plays is that, even if they weren’t plays, they are good short stories."
Bealer’s co-director Kendra Schaefer has also assistant directed for Nine, but said first-time opportunities come not only for young directors but "when you are 47."
"Now that it’s fully cast, we can see where things are going to go," said Schaefer, who is also stage manager for this, her first production as a director. "There are nine shows, with nine actors doing 27 roles."
Anna-Jeannine Kemper Herman is one of those nine busy thespians.
"I’m in four of the productions – two of the roles are someone younger than me, one is about my age, and one is older," she said. "The roles are very diverse, it is exciting to have to ‘change into’ all these different people and (affect) all the nuances of each character – that kind of distilled quality of the experience."
Christine Wright was more direct in describing the breadth of her five roles in "9 By Nine."
"I get to kiss and slap nearly every actor in the play," she laughed. "But more than anything, I want the audience and the theatre community to get that there are a lot of very talented local playwrights and actors."
Exposing that talent, Kornick said, is actually a long-standing Theatre 8:15 tradition – going back to its founding and carrying on through today.
"It is kind of an underdog story, but that search for good quality work is our greater purpose," Kornick said.
"9 By Nine" is a perfect example. While he has spent the better part of the past 30 years acting in and directing a wide array of productions, this is the first full production of a Nine-written play.
"I’m terrified," the Akron native said of how he has felt leading up to opening night of the production, which Nine describes as a mostly unconnected collection of short plays that inadvertently tie together thematically, due in large part to Nine’s writing style itself.
"They are not flat out dramas or comedies – but kind of in the middle," he said. "It’s mostly entertainment, but someone may see a message there."