The Dobama Theatre — nestled in Cleveland Heights along Lee Road and sharing estate with the beautifully renovated Cleveland Heights Public Library— celebrated the start of its landmark 60th season earlier this month with a production of Aaron Posner's transformative Chekhov adaptation Stupid F**king Bird.
Lisa Langford, a playwright and actress as well as a frequent collaborator with the theater, spoke about fresh ideas and the opportunities Dobama brings to new writers, in the theater's celebratory 60th season video package.
"There are so many plays that just simply would not get done [without Dobama], [as] they're not a part of other theaters' aesthetic," Langford said. "There are so many shows that wouldn't come to Northeast Ohio if it weren't for Dobama."
Dobama has every right to rejoice in the impressive lifespan of the company — many alternative and Off-Broadway theaters throughout the country are newer establishments or fail to reach even a half century.
The theater has had a long history promoting the arts in the Cleveland area, first as a nomadic company founded in 1959, and later in a space the Coventry neighborhood, before discovering a new facility within the Heights Library in 2009. Since then, the theater has established its place at the forefront of the arts scene in the Cleveland Heights community.
In the 2019/2020 season, the company continues to promote arts education and integration through performances, fundraisers and programs such as the long-standing Marilyn Bianchi Kids' Playwriting Festival, named after one the theater's founders.
Nathan Motta, current artistic director for Dobama, is elated by the lineup of productions this season, and says that it is hard to pick a favorite; but he feels certain that one particular show, set for later this year, will be a standout for season tickets holders and newcomers alike.
"I can say that everyone — regardless of age, life experience or exposure to theater — will love The Old Man and The Old Moon this coming December," Motta said. "Its music has a Mumford and Sons feel and the story and theatrical effects are fun and beautiful."
Dobama's other upcoming production is Wakey, Wakey, written by Will Eno, who may be a familiar name to frequent visitors to the theater. Eno's The Realistic Joneses was performed at Dobama at the end of the 2015/2016 season.
Motta says that during his tenure as artistic director (since February 2013), there have been an incalculable number of unforgettable moments shared with staff, the audience and the young people taking part in programs, such as the aforementioned playwrighting festival. However, one play stands out from the 2016/2017 season.
"I would say that An Octoroon was a special production, as it came after the summer that launched the #BlackLivesMatter movement and ran during the divisive election of 2016," Motta said. "That production showed how we can address wounds as a community, face tough things together, and have a conversation."
In essence, productions such as this define what Dobama stands for. Oftentimes, plays chosen by the theater deal with social justice and the human experience in an effort to move the artform forward, in an accessible, comfortable environment.
This season, Dobama has implemented ways to make the theater even more accessible to the public, regardless of their financial situation. Starting this season, leftover tickets to all performances will go on sale one hour prior to show time on a pay-what-you-can basis. This was announced at the opening night of Stupid F**king Bird on Sept. 6, as Motta reasoned that there a few things more important than introducing the arts to people, especially those who may not get the chance to experience it otherwise.
"I'd say that if you enjoy some of the 'prestige' television shows that you find on HBO, Netflix and Amazon Prime, you would love what we put on stage at Dobama," Motta said. "My guess is it will be very different from what you think of theater to be traditionally."
Kevin Cronin, who has been regularly volunteering for Dobama as an usher since 2015, started to get involved as a way to enjoy the theater with colleagues, and has grown to enjoy being a part of the Dobama family.
"[The company] has a cordial, friendly structure, from the staff and board throughout to its loyal membership that makes volunteering a simple, productive and enjoyable experience," Cronin said.
With modern media platforms, Motta and the staff at Dobama understand the options out there for those seeking entertainment. Motta, however, works hard to ensure that theater remains as important as ever, as a way to tell stories in an intimate setting at the highest quality possible.
"Storytelling is what makes us human. This moment in history is unique in that technology has make it logistically unnecessary to communicate face to face," Motta said. "To put it simply, this is as important a time as ever to get off the couch, outside the house, put the phone down for a couple of hours, and be present — share an experience with a bunch of people and see a story told live. And while you're at it, enjoy a drink, be with a friend, laugh, be moved, and maybe even think a little bit."