Dobama Theatre’s Nathan Motta talks about times of growth, change

Over in Cleveland Heights, OH, Dobama Theatre continues to take pandemic life in stride. Despite bans on large in-person gatherings, they continue to engage, educate, and entertain. It’s all about the community.

Though their approach to presenting and viewing theater may have changed from when it closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 event, some things remain the same.

“Our first priority remains the same, putting the health and safety of our community first. After that, we knew very quickly that it would be an extended period of time before we could produce anything safely in person given Dobama’s union status and the intimacy of our performance space,” says Artistic Director Nathan Motta. “We then began to focus on what we could do, rather than dwell on what we couldn’t. We also tried to think about what’s unique about the artistic experiences Dobama creates. We knew it was of a high professional quality, that it produced important new scripts, and that it was intimate. The programming that we created all aligns with those values.”

Cleveland has responded to Dobama’s changes, which include more virtual offerings and programming. Despite not being able to have patrons on the physical premises, Dobama’s programming is in full gear, celebrating 60 years as Northeast Ohio’s Off-Broadway Theatre. There is a lot of need for both presenters and audience members, and Dobama wants to give all around.

The Soliloquy Project

“We want to continue to engage and serve our community. We’ve also prioritized creating programming that is of use now, and will be of use when this pandemic moment has passed. For instance, we’ve filmed an 8-part series of education videos for our young playwrights program. These are useful during a time of distanced learning, but will also be useful as supplemental materials for years to come as young writers participate in Dobama’s Marilyn Bianchi Kids’ Playwriting Program. The same thing goes for our artistic programming like “The Soliloquy Project” [and other events],” says Motta.

“The Soliloquy Project” is a series of short films featuring memorable monologues from previous Dobama productions and notable contemporary playwrights. These videos are professionally produced by Dobama Resident Filmmaker Brian Devers and Endeavors Productions and performed by some fantastic professional Cleveland actors.

Motta explains, “Thus far we’ve released three of these short films; On the Grill by Dror Keren featuring Dorothy Silver, Goodnight, Tyler by B.J. Tindal performed by Lisa Langford, and Grounded by George Brant and performed by Anjanette Hall. We’ve planned three more in the series that we’ll release in December, January, and February. These have already been filmed and are in the process of being edited. They are made available to 20/21 Dobama Members first, then later made available to stream for a Pay-What-You-Can price.”

How to Be a Respectable Junkie

Motta is also excited about Dobama’s full-length filmed version of How to Be a Respectable Junkie. “This play was developed and had its world premiere at Dobama. It’s based on the true accounts of a survivor of heroin addiction. The movie will be a combination of a newly filmed stage production of the play and on location footage in and around Cleveland that will give the audience a film-like experience. That’s due to be released in March 2021,” he says. Like most of the theatre’s programming for the 20/21 season, this film will be of use post-COVID, and the video will be available to treatment centers, clinics, educational institutions, and other community groups in order to educate and create empathy around addiction, and market future touring performances of the show in the region.

As always, Dobama celebrates artists. “I’m also very excited about our ongoing series “Artists of the Land.” This is a tough time for theatre artists and this series profiles theatre professionals from the Cleveland area on social media and internet platforms. These artists share a meaningful story about their work in the theatre and how the pandemic has affected them. Readers have the opportunity to make a contribution to each individual artist specifically, supporting them in one some small way to weather the storm during this challenging time. It’s based on the “Humans of New York” series,” says Motta.

Artists of The Land

And how is the staff holding up? What changes have come for them? “Despite working from home, cuts in pay, and the stresses of the world during this pandemic, the staff has been using this time in remarkable and important ways. We’re in the midst of re-thinking how we operate internally by using an organizational structure based more around an indigenous and feminine model – one that prioritizes conversation, relationship-building, and consensus for decision making. We’re demonstrating what we’re preaching during this time of pandemic, that taking care of each other is the first priority,” says Motta.

With a COVID-19 vaccine in the early stages of release, it is hopefully just a matter of months until life will start to slowly return to a more ‘normal’ way of existence. As with many companies, there is a question of if virtual theater will continue at Dobama, even after restrictions lift and the pandemic is well in our rear-view.

“Personally, I believe that theatre is something that requires being present in person. I’m not taking anything away from all the innovative and important art that is being created, but I feel like “virtual theatre” is its own thing entirely. It’s not quite live theatre and not quite film, but a sort of real-time virtual storytelling or performance art. It’s interesting and useful, but not the crux of Dobama’s mission. I believe that many years from now we’ll look back at this moment of pause as an outlier where important structural reforms took place, and from which live theatre emerged more valued and equitable than it was before. That being said, I think we will certainly use Zoom and other online platforms as an important new tool in the post-pandemic world in areas like production meetings, closed readings, workshops, marketing, training, and engagement.”

“We also find ourselves very fortunate to have this opportunity to do the important work of equity and inclusion. People at every level of the organization are actively engaged in the work of anti-racism and the work of social justice. This pause in full-scale productions gives us the gift of time to change the tires while the car is stopped, so to speak. I, for one, am grateful for the chance to have some vital conversations and take bold, sweeping action that might be more daunting or difficult in the midst of producing a six-show mainstage season. When this pandemic is over, everyone will find Dobama a more welcoming and more equitable place.”

To get more information about Dobama Theatre and all of its offerings, or to support it during these pandemic times, please visit www.dobama.org. Find out more about:

  • The Soliloquy Project
  • Artists Of The Land
  • How To Be A Respectable Junkie
  • New Play Development
  • Immersive Theatre Festival
  • Masterclasses

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