CPT's Big [BOX] hosts arts-festival discussion

As marketing director for the Ingenuity Festival, James Krouse is familiar with what he calls "the burden" that cities place on arts festivals. Especially in the Northeast, where cities have been hit hard by the decline of manufacturing and migration to warmer climes, governments have realized that arts festivals can draw tourist dollars downtown. Some festivals, created in that context, continually struggle to bear the weight of municipal woe.

As if to show Clevelanders that they are not alone in facing this dynamic, Krouse is bringing a panel discussion of arts-festival administrators from a New Jersey town that's attempting to repackage its arts festival to reinvigorate it — and the town too. The group from Hohonkus' "Honkfest!" has made Cleveland the first stop on a panel-discussion and information-gathering tour. That, at least, is the premise of Krouse's winking production, part of a double bill in this week's Big [BOX] series at Cleveland Public Theatre.

According to the production's backstory, the fictitious Honkfest! was conceived as the Hohonkus Festival of Arts, Culture and Ideas by the Hohonkus League of Women Leaders in 1998. Executive director Jean Brackenbridge has been with the festival from the beginning. Together with artistic liaison Greg Musmeci, she is trying to move the event into the high-tech age, not only in terms of its content but also its marketing reach. Honkfest!, for example, now has a well-developed website with Facebook links to attract friends and mechanisms for soliciting corporate sponsorship. Check it out at honkfest.com.

The piece is full of arts-marketing inside jokes. The festival's website has bright photos meant to convey a sense of excitement and general good feeling rather than anything relevant to the actual performances. It's especially rich in its send-up of creating Facebook pages for events so they can be announced virally through "friends."

"For all the characters, I have Facebook pages, so you can go on and 'friend' characters in the play," says Krouse. "It gives it a whole other level. They'll talk back to you and everything. When you start to create fake people on Facebook, you end up creating a whole cast of characters. One of them talks about his ex-wife, for example, and she has a Facebook page too."

It has a lot in common with a certain rockumentary parody. "In the way that Spinal Tap passes by jokes, never sacrificing the sense of the real in the process of parody, we've tried to do that here," says Krouse. "There are not a lot of jokes, but I think we're going to get a lot of laughs."

The other half of the bill is Cat R. Kenney's solo show, McInjun. The author/performer introduced the short play last fall at an Oddy Fest performance in Cleveland Heights, where she's occasionally involved in showcasing embryonic new works. This time, Kenney has enlisted theater veteran Lisa Ortenzi to direct.

McInjun is the story of a long walk. A 15-year-old boy — half Seminole, half Irish — misses the bus from the Cleveland Play House to his home in Bay Village. He's new to Cleveland, so he's not familiar with the neighborhoods and nighttime activities that stand between him and his destination. He meets people along the way — thugs, police and others. He hides from some, stops to talk to others and learns that he has a lot in common with some of the people he's afraid of. That universal theme — the outcast discovering he's more like other people than he thinks — should resonate locally, thanks to the Indians' controversial Chief Wahoo mascot and Northeast Ohio's large Irish-American population.

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