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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In Advance of Next Week's Shows at Hilarities, Jim Tews Talks About Launching His Comedy Career in Cleveland

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 1:15 PM

  • Mindy Tucker
A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, comedian Jim Tews studied film at Cleveland State University while launching a standup career here in the early 2000s.

Tews returns to town next week to perform at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26, and at 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, at Hilarities. The Feb. 28 show will serve as a release party for Oatmeal, his very funny new album that features a standup set he recorded at a small San Francisco club.

Tews, who lives in Ridgewood, Queens with his partner, two cats and a dog with an underbite, talks about his career in this recent phone interview.

You were in the Coast Guard for a number of years. Were you the funny guy in the Coast Guard?
Sometimes. That’s not the best title to have in that setting. I was more like the guy getting in trouble.

But you survived for a few years.
Yes. I did four years, which is a standard enlistment. I was stationed in Cleveland and that’s how I ended up in Cleveland for ten years.

You started your comedy career here. Talk about what that was like.
It was an interesting experience. It was easy to find gigs. I was always into standup but I got the bug when I was active duty. I needed an outlet. I don’t know how I found it, but it might have been through an internet search for open mic comedy. I found this open mic at a sports bar in North Olmsted. I don’t know if it’s still there. It’s called No Excuses. They had a comedy open mic every Thursday or every other Thursday. I went and watched one. I thought I could do it. The next time, I went and signed up, and I’ve suffered ever since.

What was your first performance like?
I think it was pretty unremarkable. I do have video somewhere, but I haven’t put it online yet. I remember being pretty scared, and I remember writing everything I was going to say word-for-word. I was always a stronger writer than performer. I felt better writing things out long form. I had printed pages of what I’d written. I did two jokes in five minutes. That’s not something you want to do with right out of the gate. You want to tighten it up a little bit. They were stories with attempted punchlines.

Where in Cleveland did you regularly perform once your career launched?
At that time, the Improv was a little more accessible than Hilarities. They had a monthly amateur night. You would go during the day on Monday at noon, and they would have auditions during the day. You would do two or three minutes. Sometimes, they would critique your set or just tell you to come back. That became the thing to do. When I got out of the Coast Guard, I moved back to Pennsylvania for a little bit and then back to Cleveland. I had some roots and decided to go to college there and was in a relationship at the time. When I went back, I started hitting the club stuff a little harder. I would regularly go to the Improv on those Monday afternoons with all these other people who didn’t have jobs. You can imagine when you have comedy auditions on a Monday afternoon, you get the craziest people or sometimes people who have good jobs and can take an hour. I don’t know if they got the cream-of-the-crop during that time slot. It would have probably been better to open up the auditions a little more, but it was what it was, and I met a lot of people I’m still friends with.

When did you move to New York and what was that transition like?
It was kind of rough for a while. I was in Ohio and then moved back to Pennsylvania for six months to save up money. I lived with my sister. I found a place in New York and a freelance job that had some consistency to it. I was writing for a website. I had enough to make rent every month if I did the writing job. I just wanted to get there and figure the rest out. That’s kind of what I did. The first six months to a year was very difficult. I was 30. It wasn’t old, but you don’t want to be sleeping on a mattress on a floor when you’re 30, which is what I was doing. It wasn’t even my mattress. I moved into this apartment with three relative strangers. I had an air mattress. They had a mattress that the last person left and there were no bedbugs on it. They asked me if I wanted it, and of course I wanted it. I didn’t want to want it, but I wanted it. I was doing catering jobs and figuring out comedy in New York, which is an entirely different beast. I didn’t do a lot of the barking. I just did open mics and tried to hang where I could go. I went that route.

When did the Undone Sweaters, your Weezer tribute act, come together?
That was like five years ago now. That was just a fun side project. We haven’t played together in a while because we’ve been busy with our other things. It started with me and two other comedians, who are from Ohio too. They asked me to do a show that was standups doing anything but standup. I chose to play Weezer songs on my guitar. They organizers played music too and wanted to something together. We got along really well and our director friends were looking for something to shoot. I had the idea for the weird Weezer tribute band. Everyone was on board. We started doing that and we wanted to perform live and not embarrass ourselves, so we just practiced. It was fun, and we put way too much effort in it. We’ve gone on tour two or three times.

Talk about this new album, Oatmeal. Where did you go to record it?
I went to San Francisco this time. I did my last one in Cleveland because I know people there like me, and I could fill the room. For the next one, I didn’t know if I wanted to exhaust my Cleveland friends and family again. The label had this room in San Francisco that gets a good audience on the weekends and is rigged for recording. It’s a small venue with something like 50 seats.

Did you know the people in the audience.
No. It was a random audience. It was an audience of people who had never heard of me. I was a little scared of, but that’s how I perform 99 percent of time. It’s weirdly risky. The audience isn’t loaded. It’s not like half the people liked me, and I knew I had that.

Your bit about taking mushrooms and then crying is pretty funny. Is that a true story?
Yes. It’s very true. I don’t mind drug jokes, but I don’t want to do things unless they’re based on some sort of personal experience. The point of that joke isn’t the drugs. It’s the crying thing. It was a larger point I was trying to make, and the drugs played a key part.

What other projects do you have in the works?
I don’t have anything set in stone. I do some animation stuff. I like doing that stuff, but I’m also reluctant to do it because it’s so time consuming. I like to take a broad look at all the things I feel like doing and see which one tickles me the most.

How’d you learn how to draw?
I used to be a caricature artist at an amusement part. Animation was always an interest of mine. I took some drawing classes when I lived in Cleveland at Tri-C. It’s so time consuming. In the last couple of years, some software has helped make it easier, and I’ve gotten better at it. When you do standup, it’s hard to set yourself apart even if you’re good, so it’s good to have another thing I could do that I know many other people can’t do. I need to figure out how to leverage it and make it a supplement to how I do comedy.

Talk about what your show here will be like.
I would love to tell you that it’s all new stuff. It’ll be new to people in the audience who don’t know me. For the Wednesday show, I will do a mix of old and new. I’ll play the hits. Friday’s show will be different. It’s the album release show. Mike Polk and Bill Squire and Mary Santora and Juanda Mayfield will do the show. I will host the show and do some standup. I’ll also have a set of cards that have my certain talents written on them. An audience member will draw a card and between comics I will perform that’s not standup. One of the talents is caricatures, so I’ll bring up someone from the audience and draw a caricature. I also play the saxophone. I might call them “challenges.” I have trouble figuring out what I should really focus on. I might have the audience score me and then whatever scores the highest is what I’ll pursue for the rest of my life. If it’s not standup comedy, so be it.

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Michael Tilson Thomas to Speak at CIM Commencement, Receive Honorary Doctorate

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:18 AM

  • Kristen Loken
On May 16, Cleveland Institute of Music will confer an honorary doctorate on Michael Tilson Thomas, one of the more well-known and well-respected contemporary conductors. Tilson Thomas will accept degree remotely in live video address to CIM’s centennial-year commencement.

Tilson Thomas, the Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the New World Symphony and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, is a two-time Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist. He's curated and conducted at the hall from 2003 to 2005 and from 2018 to 2019. In the most recent series, he led Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America both at the hall and on tour in Asia.

A winner of 11 Grammy awards, Tilson Thomas appears on more than 120 recordings. He's been a Musical America’s Musician of the Year and Conductor of the Year and Gramophone magazine’s Artist of the Year. He's also been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes and ABC’s Nightline.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

'Dirty Daddy' Bob Saget Brings His Not-So-Family-Friendly Comedy to the Agora

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2020 at 1:15 PM

  • Netflix Screenshot
Bob Saget, best known for playing the lovable Danny Tanner on Full House and Fuller House, is bringing his brand of in-you-face dirty humor to the Agora Theater this spring.

The former America's Funniest Home Videos host, and author of the book Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, hits Cleveland on Friday, May 15. Expect the actor/comedian to probably pull out his guitar at some point in the show and definitely talk about co-star/friend John Stamos.

Tickets run between $45-$50, and go on sale this Friday. 

The show starts at 8 p.m. and all ticket holders must be 18 or older to enter. Find tickets right here.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi's Bilingual Production of 'And Then We Met...' at CPT Brings Four Strangers Together on the Path to Mutual Respect

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 9:38 AM

  • Photo by Steve Wagner
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland never received an award for promoting cultural engagement, but maybe they should have. Many times, in their song 'n' dance flicks when they were both young and spry, they would gather their friends and shout, "Let's put on a show!" And then they did.

It turns out, putting on a show is a pretty damn good way to bring people and communities together. Cleveland Public Theatre under the leadership of Raymond Bobgan knows this better than most, and the proof is on stage for everyone to see. Their theater company Teatro Publico de Cleveland has been going for seven years, presenting the voices of the LatinX-Cleveland community.

And this is the second year for a new company, Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi, involving the Arabic-speaking citizens of our town. The latest production by this group is And Then We Met..., an episodic tale of four strangers from the Arabic world with very different backgrounds and religions. The multiple tragedies of war throw them together but also lead them on a path of mutual understanding and respect.

The play, developed by the 11-person cast under the direction of Bobgan and Faye Hargate, is unpolished in a theatrical sense. This is particularly true since many of the performers are first-timers on stage. But this is as much a coming out party for a little-seen community in Cleveland as it is a theatrical event. And in that regard, it succeeds beautifully.

As those four strangers live their lives, in the Middle East and here in Cleveland, we see people struggling for and sometimes achieving the lives they want. The bi-lingual script is performed in both English and Arabic, with surtitles projected in the language that is not being spoken in the moment.

The performers and creators of this piece are Abbas Alhilali, Ebaa Boudiab, Issam Boudiab, Jamal Julia Boudiab, Hussein Ghareeb, Anna Handousa, Ahmed, Kadous, Omar Kurdi, Shirien Muntaser, Haneen Yehya, and Ahlem Zaaeed. And their work—replete with humor, heartache, music and laughter—helps the audience see the world in general, and the Arabic community in Cleveland, in what will be a new light for many.

As Bobgan and Hargate mention in their program notes, our city is stronger when we come together. One way to do that is to put on a show so creators, performers and audience can experience the same moments together. Aa a result, they can see each other for what they really are—fellow human beings who share the same hopes and dreams

When you do that, people can change for the better. Mickey and Judy would be proud.

And Then We Met...
Through February 16, presented by Masrah Cleveland Al-Arabi at Cleveland Public Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., cptonloine.org, 216-631-2727.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

'The Masked Singer' Comes to Cleveland This Summer, Features Mysterious Local Celebrity

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:24 AM

  • Photo via YouTube
Your grandma's favorite show, The Masked Singer, is getting the live tour treatment this summer, headed to theaters around the country, including one in Cleveland.

Tuesday, June 9, the adapted-for-the-stage event hits the KeyBank State Theatre with two guest "celebrity" judges.

“Audiences can expect to see their favorite characters brought to life on stage, as well as surprise celebrity guests, amazing new performances and a can’t-miss spectacular live show for audiences of all ages,” promoters said in a statement.

Making each tour stop hyper-local, the show is including one city celebrity with each performance, which is sure to keep the audience guessing.

As to which celebrity judges and/or participants from the TV show, if any, are headed out on tour is still unclear.

Tickets are currently on sale and run between $24.75 to $109.50. The show starts at 7 p.m.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

fp Creative Brings a Surround-Sound Gallery of Music to Snap House Studios Next Week

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 9:37 AM

  • Courtesy Cleveland Classical

Imagine the thrill of sampling ice cream without being a burden on the person scooping it, and without the sighs of people in line behind you. Now switch out the flavors for different types of music performed by area vocalists, and you have a good idea of the next concert from fp Creative.

“Samples” is in fact the name of the show at Snap House Studios on Thursday, February 20. Designed by guest producer Melanie Emig, the program ranges from Medieval music to hip hop, R&B, folk, global music, blues, soul, contemporary classical, and guided listening — each short performance coming from a different spot around the edges of the room, as the audience sits in the center and takes it all in.

The evening’s vocalists include Elena Mullins, Case Bargé, Amanda Powell, Liz Bullock, Rayna, Seyu, Naomi Columna, and Emig herself. Also featured is theorbist Jeremy Bass. Doors open at 7:00 pm, music begins at 7:45, and tickets between $0-15 are available onsite.

I spoke with Emig to learn more, and began by asking what sparked this idea.

Melanie Emig: I knew that I wanted to do a variety show of sorts and bring together genres that you might not necessarily hear in the same space. When I was in high school, we used to do a similar concert. It was my favorite one of the year. The audience sat in the middle, different acts were placed around them, and there was no clapping in between — it moved seamlessly from one artist to the next.

It was always so exciting and involved a lot of people. I just thought the whole concept was really lovely, and I wanted to kind of update it with a lot of new music by living composers alongside different genres in the same space. I love the idea of somebody coming to the show who maybe is a fan of hip hop but doesn’t like these other genres, or thinks they don’t. And when they hear some other style, they think, maybe I do like that! Or if somebody comes in who listens to world music but not a lot of early music, and then decides to check that out some more — that was my main goal.

Jarrett Hoffman: I imagine that producing this show has felt like putting together a mixtape or a playlist, and it’s always so fun to put those in order. Have you debated about that very much?

ME: I’ve thought a lot about order and the flow of things. It is purposely kind of disjointed, just because of what it is. And part of that is also the space. Some artists are in different ensembles, so it was like a puzzle to figure out a good flow while also making sure that people have time to get where they need to be for the next piece. To me, it’s kind of like a story — there’s a slow build-up, there’s a climax, and then the end.

JH: Tell me about some of those different ensembles.

ME: The first piece is by Amanda Feery, a living Irish composer, and it’s a quartet for female singers. And the second-to-last piece is by another living composer who’s really popular right now in the new music scene, Caroline Shaw. I had given each performer a prompt to present something they feel best represents them as an artist, but in between, I selected pieces about how well we communicate. The Caroline Shaw piece was featured on NPR — it’s about the 24th Amendment and voter suppression. So are we really listening to all of the voices we have available to us?

I would have loved to have more overlap and mixing of genres, like a hip hop artist performing with an early music person, but we only have one rehearsal to get things together. Down the road, eventually.

JH: How have you decided to arrange the audience in the center — all facing out?

ME: I had originally intended for everybody to be facing one way. I kind of like the idea of not being able to see the performer and just hearing them. But once we get into the space, we’ll have a better sense of it. I’m also open to having people just walk around, kind of like an art gallery — we’ve toyed around with that idea.

JH: Tell me about the guided listening section.

ME: We don’t have an intermission, but that’s kind of like our mental break. It’s a piece by Pauline Oliveros with audience participation. She was all about listening, and she advocated deep listening as opposed to just hearing. So the audience is encouraged to listen to their breathing and to each other, and at some point, if they feel so inclined, to make sound with their breath.

JH: We’ve talked about Amanda Feery, Caroline Shaw, and Pauline Oliveros. Are there any other composers or songwriters you want to point out? Or pieces?

ME: Seyu and Case write their own music, which is all amazing, and Liz Bullock, who’s doing rock and blues, will sing one of her original songs for this show as well. We have Hildegard von Bingen, who was a 12th-century nun and a pretty amazing composer. We have Barbara Strozzi, a composer of Baroque music, and one of her contemporaries, Francesca Caccini. And Amanda will be singing some folk music, like La Llorona, a famous Spanish folk song that has been sung forever.

JH: This looks really exciting! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk.

ME: Absolutely, and come on out — February 20th!

Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 11, 2020.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Three Career Women 'Of a Certain Age' Explore Their Libidos in 'Sassy Mamas' at Karamu House

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:36 AM

  • Kayla Lupean Photography
As is true with most theaters in town, they tend to repeat popular shows to help fill their coffers. And if you've ever tried to fill a theater coffer, you know that's no easy task. Trouble is, the re-visited shows are often less successful than the original was.

Happily, such is not the case with Sassy Mamas, Celeste Bedford Walker's naughty and frolicsome comedy which is making its return engagement at Karamu House. In this iteration, the cast is flying even higher on the sexual octane pumped out by the playwright, as three career women "of a certain age" in the same condo building explore their libidos with younger studs.

As director Tony Sias says in his program notes, this new cast is integrated with one of the three hot-to-trot couples being white and two of them black. This celebrates the theater's history of inclusion, which began back at its founding in 1915.

White or black, this play is funny all over. The pre- and post-menopausal gals fight off hot flashes as they flash their bodies and urges, throwing aside prim upbringings as they live the lives they love. And what they love is a man who walks softly and carries a, well, you know.

The one returning cast member is Jeanne Madison as Wilhelmina, an accomplished woman who is now the National Security Advisor to the President—the one who used to live in the state of Texas, not the one who currently lives in a state of delusion.

Madison has an easy stage manner and her facial expressions as she tries to balance her hormones that are attacking her from all sides are priceless. And she is well complemented by Dyrell Barnett as Wes, an ex-jock who likes a strong woman, even one with military capability.

The quiet one among the trio of women friends is Mary, who is played by Susan Lucier as rather fragile and weepy at first. But by the second act, Mary has found her groove with Colby (Peter Ribar) a gardener who tends to her ferns and such. With an emphasis on the such.

The most outrageous woman of the trio is Jo Billie, who has written out a contract for her lover LaDonte, or "Tay-Tay." The details of the contract stipulate when he must stop talking and Zip It, and when he is called upon to get busy and Unzip It. As Jo Billie, Sheffia Randall Dooley has a blast as she chases Tay-Tay around her pad, and Darelle Hill has the audience screaming with his gyrations, pelvic and otherwise.

Once again, the set and costume design by Inda Blatch Geib are luxurious. And women in the audience may be conflicted by whether they want to rush the stage and grab one of the men, or grab some of the gorgeous dresses.

Sex ought to be fun. And thankfully Sias and his capable cast provide exactly that, in ample amounts.

Sassy Mamas
Through February 23 at Karamu House, 2355 E. 89 St., karamuhouse.org, 216-795-7070.

Christine Howey, a former stage actor and director, is executive director of Literary Cleveland.

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