Orgies and Chainsaws

Blank Canvas is revving up different offerings as the new theater in town

If you wanted to stage your own lesbian orgy with teenage cheerleaders, you would probably land in jail. A better idea: open a theater, book Debbie Does Dallas, the Musical, and post a call for auditions.

Although Patrick Ciamacco had many other reasons for starting his thespian enterprise, Blank Canvas Theatre, it turned out that the above orgy did take place. D3 just panted to a close in December, a riot of libidinous excess and laughs that will perhaps establish a new local genre: the Super-Sexy Holiday Stage Show.

While breaking new ground isn't exactly the acting company's mission, it's not an idea Ciamacco shuns. As he explains, "I want Blank Canvas to bring in a younger audience with an eclectic selection of shows that doesn't promote any particular political agenda. The goal is to spark new interest in theater."

Since Blank Canvas opened in early 2012, the shows have ranged from faithfully rendered classics (Of Mice and Men) to tuneful splatter romances (The Texas Chainsaw Musical).

And that mix of the sublime and the ridiculous is slated to continue this year, with Chainsaw making a return engagement while the iconic drama Twelve Angry Men and a holiday presentation of Godspell are also slated to share the BCT stage.

Speaking of that stage, Blank Canvas is located in the 78th Street Studios, a huge "arts maze" that was formerly American Greetings' Creative Studios in the 1980s. Home to more than 40 retail galleries, art studios and design showrooms, the massive complex is also functioning as an incubator for a variety of other creative businesses.

One of those infants is Blank Canvas, occupying a rather small section of the building that one reaches after walking through several hallways featuring random displays of art.

"We immediately saw the potential of this location," notes Ciamacco. "And we moved in so fast we didn't even have a ladder when we wanted to start hanging lights. It took a little while to shake out all the staging issues, but we're feeling very comfortable now."

Another goal of Ciamacco is to make Blank Canvas a welcoming place for actors and theatrical designers of all stripes. "I want to establish a positive, stress-free environment for those who work on the shows, so that the best people want to come here."

As he is finding, that kind of atmosphere is leading to extremely positive reviews from area critics, as well as appreciative comments from audiences. Indeed, their production of Next Fall, a touching and amusing story of a gay couple, their parents and friends, was performed with great subtlety.

Ciamacco directed that production, a role he occupies frequently. But he also acts—he played the dyspeptic hack driver in Hellcab by Will Kern last May. Ciamacco's background encompasses both disciplines. He acted in Tony and Tina's Wedding downtown for more than two years and he has also directed plays at True North Cultural Arts and other venues.

As for the name of the theater, it's more than just a pleasant image of creativity being born. There is always a blank canvas backstage during a run, and the cast and crew are invited to paint on it. "Some of these paintings aren't so great," admits Ciamacco. "But there are some good ones. We actually plan to display some of them in the theater from time to time."

Starting and managing a new theater is an enormous task, and some local theaters have blossomed and then faded away when their founders made crucial mistakes or over-committed. Ciamacco is aware of the pitfalls:

"I know I can't do everything myself. But as longs as other talented people want to join me on this journey, it'll work."

And, you know, the occasional orgy never hurts.

Blank Canvas Schedule for 2013:

Psycho Beach Party, Feb. 22 – Mar. 9

Working, May 3 – May 18

12 Angry Men, July 12 – July 27

Frankie and Johnny in the Ciair de Lune, August 23 &ndash Sept. 7.

The Texas Chainsaw Musical, Oct. 11 – Nov. 2

Godspell, Dec. 6 – Dec. 21

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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