Straight Outta Cleveland

CPT's STEP reaches out to Cleveland's next wave of thespians.

The kids in Cleveland Public Theatre's Student Theatre Enrichment Program found a way to get work experience without flipping burgers or folding pants. They wrote a play, designed and built its sets, and now -- after nearly a year of development -- they're performing it in front of an audience.

Bliss is a "social satire set to hip-hop," says director Raymond Bobgan. It takes place in a future world where one corporation dominates the media, dispensing misleading images as a form of mind control. At the center of the play are four members of a new band, each of whom is recast by the media machine as a music stereotype: There's the teen-pop crooner, the gangsta rapper, the J. Lo diva, and the white-girl-turned-"African goddess."

"It's really geared toward young people who are receiving these images [in real life]," says Bobgan. "We're basically saying, 'Beware of what you're being told is real.'"

CPT's Student Theatre Enrichment Program (STEP) was created 11 years ago to give low-income kids the chance to experience theater firsthand, teaching them the basics of stage production. Bliss's cast and crew consist mostly of inner-city high schoolers -- rappers, singers, dancers, and actors. And "they're very energized and very excited about what's happening," Bobgan says. "A couple of them have never been onstage before. In fact, two of them told us they had never even seen a play."

The kids developed Bliss with the help of CPT instructors, including local rapper Snub Nose (a.k.a. Jerrell Anderson), who participated in STEP as a youngster. "He's very instrumental in mentoring some of the students," says Chris Seibert, the director of STEP. "He's responsible for a lot of the music in the production.

"But the kids [brought in] a huge mix of ideas. They excited the adults, who are actually interested in their input. It's a pretty exciting experience." Word.