Playhouse's Ed Stern Is Fighting Back

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern has shared some news about his health with the theater’s patrons, using a letter in the program book for Over the Tavern, which opens this Thursday. (It’s had preview performances this weekend.)—-

“No pain,” he writes, “doing fine … surprising doctors — and continuing the work that gives me such great joy. I announce this now because there is a real chance by the run of Over the Tavern that my hair will be gone.” Stern is nearly bald anyway, so he jests, “feel free to insert joke here,” then says it’s “easier to let everyone know at once than explain dozens of times each evening.”

On Aug. 29, Stern announced plans to leave the Playhouse at the end of the 2011-2012 season, marking 20 years of service as the artistic leader of Cincinnati’s Tony Award-winning regional theater. But his plans were hijacked by a cancer diagnosis in late October.

In a letter to the Playhouse staff and board of trustees at that time, he wrote, “I can assure you that I have excellent medical care. … The disease can be treated but not cured. Do know that I am still, at heart, a New Yorker. (Translation: I will fight like hell to beat this thing.) No matter how rough the battle becomes, I will look forward to coming to work each day. The wonder and joy of working with great artists, production personnel and this extraordinary administrative staff is the best medicine I could ever wish for.”

Stern continues to show up for work at the Playhouse daily, I’m told, and he is assembling shows to be produced during the 2011-2012 season. He has reduced his workload somewhat, including handing off the direction of Over the Tavern (which was first presented during December at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, a frequent Playhouse co-producer) to the Playhouse’s associate artistic director, Michael Evans Haney.

Stern’s program note to the audience says, “If you come up to talk to me, come with a smile and a laugh. The Playhouse has become a sentimental-free zone. I fully intend to be here through my 20th and last season … it IS going to be a great year.”

After citing a line by artist Henri Matisse, “When you’re out of willpower, you can call on stubbornness,” Stern adds, “That defines me. Perfectly.”

I’ve known Ed Stern since he came to Cincinnati in 1991, and I couldn’t agree more.