MV City Recreation Needs the Arts
By MATT STARR
Mayor, City of Mount Vernon
MOUNT VERNON - Finding fun things to do can be difficult these days. For my MTVarts family, we all know the joy of being on stage, behind the scenes on the set, playing for a packed house (or even a small house), and telling stories through performances. The theater and other live performances offer an escape from reality. Heck, even rehearsals are fun. This escape from reality is precisely what our community needs, and storytelling through performances, song, poetry, and visual arts are just what the doctor ordered.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has necessitated restrictions and has certainly forced all of us to rethink how we live our lives and conduct business. For the City of Mount Vernon, we are adapting to many things and moving on some initiatives much sooner than planned which includes technology-based solutions to our operations. Still, we need to see each other in a social context which is where our traditional recreational programming service delivery has transformed into something new, exciting, and larger than this city has seen.
For decades, our recreation department organized summer softball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and swimming very well, but when those programs became difficult to
administer, we began looking to the arts and entertainment community (and those offering lifelong fitness programs) for leadership. Summer in the City was born
involving several business partners and private citizens. Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Social distancing, limiting crowd sizes, and maintaining infection control measures make it difficult to do the work both of our recreation programs and the theater - or does it have to be difficult?
As the summer continues to unfold, we see program opportunities each week multiply including rock painting, music on the Kokosing Gap Trail, early morning bike rides, and musical performances planned at several of our parks - each one meeting the requirements of social distancing outdoors. MTVarts is poised to fill a new need for the community through entertainment and art. I hope that MTVarts’ “show people” show people how to have fun. Who knows? Perhaps this summer will provide a new audience, new volunteers, new actors, and new crew members for the MTVarts family.
This forced sabbatical can get us back to our roots of why we are called to theater in the first place. I’ve even dusted off my guitar and plan to play and sing with friends from our Senior Center when we reopen (rehearsals are underway). The artist has an enormous responsibility. Today’s pandemic is a reminder of that. Let’s embrace the Summer in the City with renewed enthusiasm and a chance to connect with audience members one-on-one in a new setting whether it be at the
Memorial Theater, Warehouse 14, at the new Riverview Park, in a pavilion, or on Public Square. The simplicity of song, poetry, painting, dance, or other storytelling offers escape, hope, and a zest for living. Let’s have some fun.
We at MTVarts often talk of the power of live theater and how it influences our artsIQ participants? What starts out in a workshop setting culminates into a full theatrical production. Having taught for more years than I would like to admit, I’ve seen first hand that theater makes for smarter, braver human beings. Theater helps connect the head to the heart.
Theater also connects to the importance of reading. A play has the ability to jump a story off the page and bring it to life. This can be a revelation to regular bookworms, but also a connection to reluctant readers. Part of what is happening on stage is very similar to the roleplaying all children do. The difference with roleplaying and live theater is that an audience completes the process of theater. However it is with a live audience that actors subject themselves to the risk of being critiqued. Imagine yourself standing in front of a large group of strangers with a spotlight on you, hanging on to every word you say. This can be a very paralyzing experience. Theater breaks down those imaginary barriers and bolsters self-confidence that will carry through the rest of their lives. Without risk there is no growth.
The selection of our material is no accident. Choosing the junior versions of well known musicals seems to celebrate risk, leaving open the option of success once one breaks boundaries. They also give a message of "follow your dreams". One of my friends used a very good expression; he said, "It is not about an ending that is happy, but an ending that is positive.''
We humbly thank our volunteers, donors, patrons, parents, and friends for their support of MTVarts and the power of community. We are very grateful to be a part of the artistic movement that is embracing our great city.
I am a drummer. It’s not my day job, it’s not my hobby – it’s my way of life. By trade, I work as a Vice President for one of the largest banks on the planet. By spirit, I am a drummer. Why? Well, it started when I was given my first “Country Western” beginners drum set for Christmas at the age of 5. I have to assume my parents were either gluttons for punishment or they just wanted me to beat on something besides the furniture. Because I was born with the blessed curse of constant rhythm in my head. So, I drum. Always.
I describe drumming as a “blessed curse” because it’s both a natural gift I was blessed with and a curse, well, for a couple reasons. For one thing, no one wants to hear you practice – period. For another, the constant finger and toe-tapping can be annoying to other people, to say the least. If I’m in a meeting, in a vehicle, on an elevator, in the shower, I’m drumming. Whether in my head, air-drumming, tapping on a desk to a new or familiar rhythm, or actually sitting at my kit – I am always drumming. I can’t stop it and no longer even care to try.
I’m neither a remarkable player nor quite as gifted as my professional heroes, but I’ve had the opportunity to make music through drums with many other gifted musicians, some famous, some not so famous. It doesn’t matter to me who I play with or how it’s orchestrated as the spirit of music doesn’t care about fame or fortune. While my preference is just to play smaller venues of either jazz or rock-style music with friends, I’ve said “yes” to a variety of gigs, some more odd than others.
In early 2012, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I’d be willing to play drums in the “pit band” for an upcoming summer musical called Grease. I remember thinking that I’d seen the movie Grease probably a hundred times on television since the early 80’s and knew the music pretty well. How hard could it be? I would soon find out...
To me, being able to have my family with me in MTVArts has been a blessing. It all started with Mom and I doing a show together and eventually Mom dragged Dad in, and now, here we are. Theater has given the three of us something in common in our public lives. We have been able to talk about shows and what we like about them, our opinions on certain songs, and on how we like to play our characters. Also, personally for me it has been nice being in this show with both of my parents because this is my last show with MTVArts before I move away for college and I don’t know when I will be able to return to the stage with them.
Because of how my mom and dad have chosen to parent, not only do I get to hang out with my family, but they also have no problems letting me hang out with the other teenagers and young adults of the cast. I am so thankful to my parents, but as a teenager, I would go crazy if they wouldn’t let me hang out with all my friends. However just like the Addams family, at the end of the day it still is family first and family last, and my family is amazing. Now we just need to convince my older brother to get on stage!
I can’t begin to express how thrilled I am to be in the MTVArts production of the Addams Family the Musical with my husband and youngest son. Truly, in our case, “It’s family first and family last and family by and by.” Our theater story didn’t start here, though. Jay and I met in our college production of The Pirates of Penzance. I was new to the college, coming in mid-year, and was invited to a closed audition – meaning only the acting and music directors would be there. I was on stage, ready to sing, when in walked a handsome college guy. Well, I thought, I might as well make him feel uncomfortable and sing to him since he crashed my audition. Little did I know, he was the student director and my future husband. We did several college shows together, but after college, fell out of the drama scene. Twenty plus years later, our son decided to try his hand at the dramatic arts. In the summer of 2017, MTVArts did Bye Bye Birdie. Mark, an incoming senior, had the opportunity to do a show that both my mother and I had done as seniors in high school, as well. It seemed a perfect summer experience for mother and son. After this, I was asked to be the mom in How I Became a Pirate, and did I happen to know a man who could play the dad? This show ushered Jay into MTVArts.
One day you are a young college couple in love, the next you are couple who has raised two young men and you are looking at the soon-to-be empty nest. The feeling of the parental mission accomplished is deep and satisfying but what’s next for the family? I have been focused on work so long that I even turned my hobbies into work. My side job as a self-defense instructor allows me to spend a lot of time at the gym and at the shooting range and call it work. These are good things that I really enjoy, but realized I was spending all of my time working or at the gym or basically not with Kerri. I watched her going off to rehearsal and was really happy for her to have new friends and fun but I was missing it.
When she asked me to be in the How I Became a Pirate play I could say I jumped at the chance but I didn’t. Good theatre is hard work and a lot of it, even for those of us who are providing the background as the chorus. I very much respected the work MTVArts was doing and if I was going to be a part of it I wanted to do the best I was able to do.
Well, I did take the chance and it has been hard work, and a lot of it (especially for someone who stumbles through dance practices as badly as I do!) but it’s been good. Very good. Good people, good experiences, good time spent with Kerri and now Mark in the Addams Family. Family is first after all.
My daughter leaned toward the stage in wonder as she watched the flying monkeys, dazzling witches, smoking wizard, and the straw man who could talk! She was three years old and experiencing the wonder of live theatre for the very first time. It was the year 2009 in Mount Vernon, Ohio and a moment that the two of us will always treasure. Even now, eight years later, she remembers that show. Over the years, Mount Vernon’s community theatre has continued to ignite her imagination and has brought the experience of Broadway to our small town.
At MTVarts, everyone is a volunteer. Countless hours are put into these shows to bring beauty to life for the enjoyment of our community. Why would so many busy adults give up so much of their time to something like theatre? Who needs theatre? We need threatre.