Sometimes a river's got to burn for change to happen. That transformative spirit feeds Fire on the Water, a production made up of multiple short plays performed at Cleveland Public Theatre from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14. Four theater companies are partnering with CPT to ignite the final installment of its Elements Cycle, a three-year series of plays that employ air, water, earth and fire to address our responsibilities to each other and the environment.
As CPT artistic director Raymond Bobgan was planning the last piece, he seized the chance to tie into the citywide 2015 Year of Clean Water campaign to bring a greater awareness of these issues.
"We realized we could focus on the burning of the Cuyahoga River, which is huge in the consciousness of Clevelanders," says Bobgan.
Ohio City Theatre Project
How you know them: This group runs a free kids' mask and puppet workshop and produces community shows. The play: The 1966 Hough Riots, with a nod to Ferguson, Missouri, make for an emotional script informed by witness testimony from legal documents. Fire starter: "The [Hough] incident purportedly started from somebody being refused a glass of water," says Pandora Robertson, co-director and conceiving artist. "So it is kind of fire on the water."
Blank Canvas Theatre
How you know them: From jury-room classic 12 Angry Men to the satirical gorefest The Texas Chainsaw Musical, this offbeat company continues to surprise. The play: The group views the burning river through the idyllic postwar world of '50s sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Fire starter: "It will be very tongue-in-cheek, sitcom-style dealing with some serious issues but in a fun, dark-comedy parody way," says artistic director Patrick Ciamacco.
How you know them: The nomadic company is known for unconventional performances such as 2013's The Excavation. The plays: The Ninjas have two scenes — one about puppets who light the river ablaze and another about a queen who self-immolates on a funeral pyre over her departed lover. Fire starter: "[The queen] cursed him and killed herself," says artistic director Jeremy Paul. "We're paralleling that with our own self-destructive tendencies as a society."
Talespinner Children's Theatre
How you know them: One of few local children's theaters, it offers fresh, kid-friendly shows such as the recent Clara and Nutcracker. The play: It explores a child's view of the fire while drawing upon Native American themes. Fire starter: "We are looking at the innocence that gets lost in the sense of the environment being defiled, what happens when it's crumbling and how it recovers," says executive artistic director Alison Garrigan.