Chris interviewed by Equity News about Beck Center!

Chris interviewed by Equity News about Beck Center!

Had a wonderful time being interviewed by the stage actors’ union’s publication EQUITY NEWS a few months ago about the Beck Center in Lakewood, OH. Chris & colleagues spoke at length about this great theater. The article appeared recently in the Spring News issue. Check it out!

Beck Center for the Arts

Equity News Staff – 19 days ago

For decades, Beck Center for the Arts has provided quality entertainment for residents of Cleveland and the greater northeastern Ohio area. Named by Crain’s Cleveland Business as the 11th largest cultural attraction in Cuyahoga County, it was exactly the breath of fresh air artistic director Scott Spence needed.

“I moved from Kansas City in 1989 after getting my MFA in directing,” Spence said. “I needed to explore a new vista, and word on the theatre street was that Cleveland, of all places, was experiencing a bit of a rebirth and was in fact a very strong arts city despite the blue-collar nature. I rather stumbled into Beck Center first as an actor and soon after as a guest director, and things snowballed quickly! Sometimes it really is about being in the right place at the right time.”

Spence mentioned that this summer’s upcoming production of Matilda the Musical would mark his 100th production as director at Beck Center. But that isn’t the only milestone the Lakewood, Ohio venue can celebrate. This past season marks its first as a full Equity theater.

“We’ve taken a fairly slow path on the journey from large-scale civic theater to the SPT status we enjoy today,” Spence said. “In my 28th season, it felt right to take the next step. And we’ve already been richly rewarded as audition turnouts have never been greater, and we are, in fact, currently experiencing some of our finest sales and most critically acclaimed seasons in our history.”

Eastern Region member Chris Richards first worked at the Beck Center shortly after completing his undergraduate training. His credits include Carmen Ghia in The Producers as well as the shows My First Time and Really Really. He credits Beck Center’s fearlessness as a key reason he has continued to work there.

“Nothing is off limits with them,” he said. “Carmen Ghia was so much fun and Really Really was a dark piece, but they gave me the track of Cooper, the class clown with an edge. It wasn’t a one-note thing. They gave me chances that I would normally not even consider myself for.

“They give you a lot of free reign as an actor to come in and make choices and aren’t afraid to do challenging – what I find interesting – work,” Richards said. But they still have a good guiding eye. They’re also not married to one mission; they mix the classics and contemporary works.”

Housing two venues (a 484-seat proscenium and a 96-seat black box), Beck Center allows for the variety and eclecticism that are important in the industry of today. “We recognize the need for variety and eclecticism,” Spence said. “We understand that in today’s market audiences are less and less inclined to want to commit to seven or eight shows, so we embrace the variety and throw a lot of different types of theatre their way. They know that they can choose to embrace it as a whole if that’s what they want…but we also pride ourselves in creating literally ‘any’ mini-subscriptions that they’d like to create.”

Talk to anyone who has ever worked with the Beck Center, and a common refrain pops up: their respect for the community. “There’s very much a sense of community and a loyal following among audience members and actors who have worked there many times,” Central Region member Ursula Cataan, who appeared in Shining City at the Beck Center, said, as did Richards and Central Region member Heidi Harris.

Both Spence (“I’m now directing kids of actors I previously directed. It’s the joy of longevity, I guess!”) and Harris also refer to Beck Center as a family. “From the box office staff, to the creative team, to the folks who keep the facilities running,” Harris said, “Beck is a place where I always feel valued. 

“One of my favorite experiences working at Beck was when we had a talkback session after a performance of A Great Wilderness,” Harris said. “We had representatives from the Cleveland LGBTQ community there, as well as an individual who had actually experienced gay conversion therapy. That talkback spurred conversation that moved some folks out of their comfort zones…which is exactly the kind of theatre that can help change the world for the better. I was truly proud to be a part of that production.”

 “I think the people are what I like most about working at Beck Center,” Harris said. You won’t find anyone putting on airs or having an enormous ego. No pretension. They love to make great theatre, and that’s what they do!”

Originally published in Equity News, Spring 2019.