Jason Bruffy: Fringe founder, passionate creator

Bruffy came to Cincinnati in mid-2001 to become part of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's first Young Company, a set of first-year actors.

Aug 3, 2016 at 12:48 pm
Jason Bruffy - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
Jason Bruffy

This summer I’ve been checking in with theater people who spent time entertaining Cincinnati audiences and then moved on. Jason Bruffy landed here in mid-2001 to become part of Cincinnati Shakespeare’s first Young Company, a set of first-year actors. He was excited to learn from Cincy Shakes’ founder Jasson Minadakis.

“I initially planned on staying in Cincinnati for nine months, through the season, then off to Chicago or New York City,” he wrote to me in a recent email.  “In the end, I lived and worked in Cincinnati for over eight years. Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine will always be a place I call home.” 

In his second Cincy Shakes season, he became company manager and Minadakis’ assistant and staged two touring productions. He calls 2002-03 “a season of great transition for the still-young theater company.” Following Minadakis’ 2002 departure, Bruffy worked with interim leader Nick Rose.

“Sitting at Milton’s Tavern in Prospect Hill, Nick asked me, ‘What would you do in Cincinnati if you could do anything?’ ” he says. Bruffy proposed a festival that embraced the underground arts scene, provided a safe space for risk and created a larger platform to bring the revolutionary to the mainstream. Rose urged him to create a business plan. That was the beginning of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

Under Cincy Shakes’ auspices initially, the festival became a project of Bruffy’s next creation, CineX (Cincinnati Experimental Arts). He also sought a new artistic home. 

“I started working with a small theater company at Gabriel’s Corner in OTR, Know Theatre Tribe,” he says. His first production with Know in 2003 was as assistant director and stage manager of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, a controversial retelling of Christ and his disciples through a gay filter. He assisted University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music drama professor Michael Burnham, whom he still considers a mentor, and partnered with Know’s founder Jay Kalagayan, who Bruffy calls, “the visionary of that fierce and itinerant company.” Bruffy became Know’s artistic director and continued to build the Fringe Festival.

He’s proud that the Fringe is headed into its 14th year. “The fact that the festival has gone from a project at Cincy Shakes to the hands of CineX to Know Theatre is amazing, but ultimately these years have proven that the festival belongs to Cincinnati’s arts community,” Bruffy says. “That was the hope from the beginning.”

Bruffy left Cincinnati in late 2009 to head a larger theater in Salt Lake City. “I have worked as a producer and director in over 20 states,” he says. He spent more than five years in New York City as a producer and director with Soho Rep. (one of his productions there won two Obie Awards) and Ensemble Studio Theatre. He was also resident director with the claque, a play development company. His time in New York included film and commercial work. Subsequently he’s overseen stage work for South Carolina’s Spoleto Festival USA, InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia, Orlando Shakespeare Festival and Greenhouse Theater in Chicago. Today he’s the producing director of Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles.

“I cannot have more pride in what I was a part of and what has happened since my time in Cincinnati,” Bruffy says. “The leadership of Know Theatre and Cincinnati Shakespeare by Andrew Hungerford and Brian Phillips has been thoughtful, inspirational and progressive.”

He misses the “BoHo days” of life in Over-the-Rhine. “There was something about Kaldi’s and going to Tucker’s. There was a fierce yet laidback community that existed,” he says. 

His advice to the local theater scene? “Keep doing,” Bruffy says. “And keep collaborating. Cincinnati has always found strength in cross-pollination. I believe in it firmly in the booming years to come.”

Bruffy’s core belief is that the arts and, more specifically, an artistic company should be as representative as possible of the community it serves. “That means culturally, racially and sexually,” he says. “I will always carry that banner. I hope that the Cincinnati arts community continues that as well.”

Many in Cincinnati send their best wishes for his happiness — and continued creativity.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]