December 2008 Issue
Happy New Year!
Ring out the old at Akron’s family-friendly First Night celebration.
What are you doing New Year’s Eve? This year, why not celebrate in style with people who know how to party? For 13 seasons, the Rubber City has rolled out the welcome mat to visitors from near and far for First Night Akron, an alcohol-free, family-friendly celebration of arts and culture held throughout downtown Akron. The festivities begin at 5 p.m. and end at the stroke of midnight with a brilliant fireworks display.
Here, meet three artists who will take center stage this year.
Dennis O’Connell knows how to captivate kids. As co-producing director of the Barberton-based Magical Theatre Company, he understands what will be met with applause and what will be panned with aplomb.
“With kids,” O’Connell explains, “you know right away whether you have them or not. The story has to be clear, energized and truthful to work.”
“You don’t,” he adds, “get a second chance.”
The theater troupe has been performing at First Night Akron since the event began, winning new audiences with its family-friendly plots. (This year’s show, which will be staged at the main branch of the Akron-Summit Public Library, is the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.”)
Like the 17,000 or so patrons who attend First Night each year, O’Connell views the fete as an opportunity not to be missed — from the nip in the air that lends sparkle to the ambiance, to the festive atmosphere filled with arts and culture.
“First Night is great for the community,” he says. “It’s also great for our company, because it gives families an opportunity to see live theater that they may not be able to do otherwise.”
Since its founding in 1972, O’Connell says, the Magical Theatre Company has been able to hold its own against its stiffest competition — the myriad videogames, iPods, cell phones and text messages that populate our world.
“There’s value in technology,” he adds, “but it shouldn’t be at the expense of human interaction. Often, [these devices] serve to insulate kids and adults.
“Live theater, on the other hand, is a communal experience. The audience sees that there are other people in the world struggling with problems. It’s very enlightening.”
Through the years, the ensemble has held fast to its commitment to bring the enchantment of live theater to young audiences in northeast Ohio. O’Connell points with pride to the fact that last year the troupe performed for 65,000 children from 23 Ohio counties, representing one quarter of the state.
“Theater is part of humanity, part of who we are,” he says. “Stories are acted out not only to entertain, but to provide life lessons. Kids learn that characters can persevere and that good can triumph over evil.”
For more details about the Magical Theatre Company, visit www.magicaltheatre.org
Up in the Air
To the opening strains of his favorite funky music, Bill Roddy steps into a 7-by-7-foot wood-framed cube made of Saran Wrap, feels the beat and selects five or six colors from the palette before him. Within seconds, he’s a whirling dervish of activity, juggling eight sticks filled with paint and creating canvases that would make even Jackson Pollock jealous.
“Actually,” the 31-year-old Hudson artist explains, “this is one step beyond abstract expressionism. My hand doesn’t touch the canvas. The sticks themselves are doing the painting while they’re in mid-air.
“It is,” he adds, “an example of pure centrifugal force.”
Roddy perfected the art of juggling as a youngster on the playground, amazing his friends with his knack for keeping three balls in the air at once. Through the years, he expanded his repertoire, adding rings, scarves, torches and firesticks to the mix.
“I started juggling because I was bored,” Roddy explains. “We work, work, work, and have very little time to play. The end result is we’re tired. I began juggling as a way to amuse myself and soon discovered I had a talent I could share with others.”
In 2005, he decided the time had come to jazz up the act. On the advice of a friend, he decided to add the artistic element he’s now known for.
“I was swept away by the curiosity of what pieces created by juggling paint would look like,” Roddy says. He wasn’t disappointed. The end results are one-of-a-kind works dependent as much on climatological factors as they are by the artist’s flick of the wrist. The juggler’s first attempts with the medium were made on a chilly autumn afternoon; the cool temperatures caused the blue hues he selected to congeal and resemble twilight on canvas.
Conversely, Roddy explains, painting on a 90-degree day leads to distinct lines and swirls.
“They resemble,” he says, “rivers of color.”
At First Night, Roddy — who will be stationed in the lobby of the Akron-Summit County Public Library — will complete 21 paintings during his 16-minute show. The fruits of his labors will be raffled off in a free drawing.
“I love doing this,” he says, “because whatever happens happens. And I no longer get burned.”
For more information visit www.juggleartpainting.com
There’s a little bit of Ireland in all of us, and the O’Hare Irish Dance Troupe is ready to prove it. As part of this year’s First Night festivities, company members will ask for volunteers from the audience, take them backstage at the Akron Civic Theatre, teach them a step or two and have them performing like pros by the end of the evening.
“This type of dancing is so extraordinary,” says Teresa Buck, choreographer of the Akron based-troupe. “We love sharing it.”
Formed five years ago, the competitive dance troupe is comprised of 25 students ages 7 to 19, who are committed to keeping this cultural aspect of their heritage alive.
“Dancing gives kids a chance to learn about their ancestry and make new friends along the way,” Buck says. And, she adds, popularity of shows such as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance have brought Irish steps to audiences around the world, garnering new legions of fans.
“People are fascinated by the intricate steps,” Buck says about the five forms of dance the troupe performs, which range from traditional jigs to the intricate steps spotlighted in the complex ceili group routines. “They’re so upbeat and fun.”