"If you want to get a visceral sense of how it felt to be swept up in the Hough riots, Incendiaries will take you by the hand through that hellscape." That's how I described Incendiaries last year, a volatile and risky theatrical piece conceived and directed by Pandora Robertson, the co-director of the Ohio City Theater Project (OCTP).
The play would seem a far cry from Robertson's full-time job as a database applications developer and administrator at Case Western Reserve University. But as Robertson notes, "Development and directing are similar in that you must create something out of nothing."
When not massaging the software at Case, she is often working with performers in a collaborative effort to fashion plays that address important social and political issues. In the past, Robertson tackled the concept of confession (a priest's confession of abuse) in the devised play Free Radical and the Late Night Sketchbook that played, among other venues, at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ohio City.
Robertson is deeply involved in that community and, as co-director of OCTP along with Sarah Greywitt and Fred Mowery, she is working to enhance life in that area. Indeed, the mission of OCTP is to pursue excellence in theater arts and build community through creative innovation, mentoring and neighborhood involvement.
One example of that involvement is their 2017 Summer Arts Camp, a free puppet and mask theater camp for youth ages 8 to 14, running until July 26 at the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center. In the camp, the kids make puppets and masks and then put on their own puppet show at the end. The goal, as Robertson explains it, is simple: "We want to empower young people by giving them access to their own voice through theater arts. And also, help them develop leadership skills."
In addition, OCTP is involved in putting on shows in non-traditional spaces, in churches and parish halls, so that the community has easy access to plays they might not ordinarily see.
As for the immediate future, Robertson says, "We will perform Incendiaries as part of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture's (CAC) Arts & Culture in the Square, in downtown Cleveland's Public Square, on Saturday, July 22, at 2:30 p.m. There will also be a post-performance theater workshop for actors and non-actors, adults and teens 14 and up."
Robertson is married to David Shimotakahara, executive artistic director and founder of Groundworks Dance Theater here in Cleveland. They met in Montreal, Canada, when they were both dance students and eventually moved to Akron to dance for Ohio Ballet under the direction of Heinz Poll. After her dance career was over, Robertson began choreographing, acting and directing at theaters around Cleveland. "The arts and theater were in my blood," says Robertson, "since my father was an actor, my mother was an artist and my stepfather was a musician. After I did a small cameo role in a musical directed by Vicky Bussert, back in the day, I was hooked!"
And even though she's dealing with computer data all day long, she still has plenty of energy for her theater pursuits at night. As she says, "I'm very lucky to be able to do what I love!" — Christine Howey