Swan Song

New Stage Collective pulls the plug after seven seasons

Alan Patrick Kenny did not find it easy earlier this month to discuss how New Stage Collective’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music would be the company’s final production. He said, “I did everything I could to avoid it.” After seven seasons, NSC and its ambitious co-founder have succumbed to a lack of funding, despite numerous productions that won critical praise and audience approval.

On April 6, 2009, a news release announced that there would be no eighth season.

“The support from the community has been spectacular throughout our company’s entire history,” Kenny said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, we are in a new economic reality. In the past we were able to present amazing works of theater using incredibly talented artists and very few resources. In this new reality, the artistic ideas and talent remain, but the resources do not. I feel we truly did everything we could to survive, but at the end of the day, the board and I made the only responsible decision.”

Know was not the only theater affected by the unexpected death during the winter of Dr. Robert J. Thierauf, a retired Xavier University business professor and arts supporter who focused his giving on several small theater companies. But unlike Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and Know Theatre of Cincinnati, Kenny’s NSC had such a slender base of funding that the loss of Thierauf’s support, combined with that from several others, meant the company had nowhere to turn.

NSC was an itinerant company for its first four years, most of which were summertime seasons while Kenny and co-founder Joshua Steele were still in college. Kenny expanded his reputation as the musical director with two big hits for Know Theatre, tick, tick … BOOM! (2005) and See What I Wanna See (2006). In April 2007 he rented a second floor space at 1140 Main St. in Over-the-Rhine and undertook an audacious schedule of musicals and serious dramatic works: His first production in the new space, the local premiere of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, won the 2007 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for the year’s outstanding play.

In his second season, Kenny produced Caroline, or Change, Tony Kushner and Jeannine Tesori’s musical about race relations in the Civil Rights Era, to more praise and sold-out audiences. Last summer, Jerry Springer: The Opera continued his string of hits — and CEA recognition. But the economy’s downward spiral last fall doomed NSC, which never fully employed more than three people. Single ticket sales dropped precipitously, Kenny says. His genius is artistic not managerial, and he simply could not find donors during the most horrendous economic climate in decades.

There’s a circularity to finishing NSC’s seven-year run with Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. NSC’s first mainstage production in 2003 was Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, about ambitious young people caught up in show business success. Night Music, which will be produced at Know Theatre, two blocks from NSC’s now-empty space, is a more thoughtful, mature piece.

Kenny says, “We’re closing with a more sophisticated show about finding love in middle age and not letting the important moments in life pass you by. It’s a stylish, older and worldly wise perspective that somehow makes sense.”

That might be true, but the prospect of losing Kenny’s brash audacity is sad news. He’s been a sterling stage director, a tireless musical director, a hard-working performer and a sparkplug who made theatrical magic from thin air. NSC shows were seldom perfect, but they were always worth watching.

Kenny is not directing A Little Night Music. Joe Deer, chair of Wright State University’s musical theater program, is putting together Sondheim’s 36-year-old hit with a cast including award-winning local professional actors Amy Warner (The Goat) and Bruce Cromer (Scrooge in the Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol and Salieri in Cincinnati Shakespeare’s fall production of Amadeus).

Night Music will have only eight performances, so tickets will be scarce. Subscribers with tickets for NSC’s planned-but-now-canceled production of City of Angels can redeem them for shows at several other theaters: Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over (Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, April 29-May 17), The Comedy of Errors (Cincinnati Shakespeare, through April 26) or Vigils (Know Theatre, through April 25).

Kenny has been busy wrapping things up for NSC rather than making personal plans. If guest directing opportunities arise, he’ll weigh them. He might give graduate school a look. “My long-term aspiration is to affect theater in a significant way,” he says. “If I can do that in Cincinnati, OK. And if it’s beyond, that’s what I’ll do.”

He adds, “The Cincinnati theater scene is full of amazing artists, a terrific, warm, vibrant community. New Stage did not fill a void — our task was to do good work. When I started the company, I was 20 years old and sick of doing bad theater in a barn. The great response we received was a thrilling byproduct, but it was never our goal. The community created a place for us. I never imagined we’d become one of Cincinnati’s five resident theaters and do 15 shows in three years.”

Kenny isn't usually so modest. He truly had an artistic vision that required a hydroelectric power plant to sustain it. He had the talent to carry it off.

I hope we see more of him in Cincinnati, but I’m certain theater fans will someday say they witnessed the beginning of a remarkable theatrical career when he powered NSC in Cincinnati.

New Stage Collective's A Little Night Music runs Apr. 23-May 17 at Know Theatre. Subscribers with tickets for NSC’s planned-but-now-canceled production of City of Angels can redeem them for shows at several other theaters: Don’t Make Me Pull This Show Over (Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, April 29-May 17), The Comedy of Errors (Cincinnati Shakespeare, through April 26) or Vigils (Know Theatre, through April 25).

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