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Near West Theatre gives local youth platform to be heard

Local theatre helps dozens of kids prepare performances centered around 2020 world events.

CLEVELAND — Local theatres have been closed for months, but one organization has used that time to bring kids together and give them a platform for expression.

“Passion is a word that’s in our mission statement, and I think that’s exactly what this has provided,” says Near West Theatre’s Executive Director, Mike Obertacz. “To be able to bring these kids together and have these deep conversations that lead to art as a reflection of our humanity, I hope we learn from what they have to say and I hope we can be better adults for it.”

Obertacz and the rest of Near West Theatre were faced with a dilemma during the pandemic. The theatre was closed down and they couldn’t really offer take out service, so they decided to orchestrate a show with their youth members. 

“Rise: The Isolation Project” gives them a platform to discuss everything going on in the world during this crazy year, from their perspective.

“You got the chance to talk and be open,” says cast member, Selina Hokello. “It just gives you a lens into what other people are going through.”

Cast member, Sophie Hull added, “It makes me so inspired to know there are so many youths out there like me who are frustrated and angry and were not holding back. It was needed.”

All in all, it’s about 30 local youths who have come together for an hour long compilation of zooms, classrooms, cell phone footage, blogs, poetry, dance and song. The show addresses isolation, the pandemic, black lives matter and more. It’s an original show where Near West Theatre provided the road map, but let the kids drive the car.

Trinidad Snider, the Artistic Director, says, “It is all their words, their thoughts, what all of these things that have been happening in the world means to them.”

Despite this being a prerecorded performance, Near West Theatre is treating it as close to the real thing as possible. When you get a ticket, you’re getting a specific date and time to tune in and watch it. They also cleared out the entire house to set up socially distant chairs and tables to bring the kids in to watch it on the big screen on opening night.

“Still going to be nervous about it,” says Hokello. “I’m going to be nervous about the reactions but I’m very excited.”

Rise will be streamed at specific dates and times from October 10th through October 18th and is pay what you can to watch. It’s a show that the kids and organization hope will open some eyes, but more importantly some ears to how 2020 is affecting today’s youth.

“We have something to say and it took us awhile to work up the courage to say something, so we’re ready to share,” says Hull.

Snider adds, “It’s something to witness and behold, I think it’s incredibly powerful.”

“I hope people tune into this and learn that there is immense value in the voice of our youth,” says Obertacz.

For more information on the performance or to purchase a ticket, visit Near West Theatre’s website by clicking here.