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Near West Theatre's Leadership Begins New Era

Trinidad Snider and Mike Obertacz [ideastream]

One of Cleveland's longest-running community theaters has a new pair of directors after almost four decades of continuous leadership.

Near West Theatre [ideastream]

Located in Cleveland's Near West Side and the Gordon Square Arts District, Near West Theatre has had two directors for the majority of its existence.

Founding director Stephanie Morrison Hrbek started Near West in 1978.

Bob Navis Jr. and Stephanie Morrison Hrbek [ideastream]

She and artistic director Bob Navis Jr. together staged dozens of musical productions for and with the community for nearly 40 years.

Since they retired, a new duo takes the reins.

The new artistic director, Trinidad Rosado Snider, grew up on the Near West Theatre stage.

Trinidad Snider, Near West Theatre artistic director [Near West Theatre]

"It truly is a full circle moment. To be a 14-year-old Latina girl who was looking for an opportunity to really connect and feel a part of a community. I was raised by a single mom, had two brothers. So that extended family really helped me through all of those major moments in my life," Snider said.

Trinidad Rosado as "Maria" in Near West Theatre's 1990 production of "West Side Story" [Near West Theatre]

Executive director Mike Obertacz comes from the Center for Arts-Inspired Learning. He hired Snider in June.

"It was important as we move forward into this new era and new generation of leadership that we had somebody that understood our mission and understands what sets us apart from any other theater in town," Obertacz said.

But it was also Snider's other experiences at places like The Memorial Opera House in Indiana and more recently with Cleveland's Musical Theater Project that gave her an edge.

"Trinidad's knoweldge of running a theater like a business. Her experience after leaving Near West Theatre and working at other theaters and taking a lot of those lessons with her. I think she does a lot for this organization in coming back. Not only can she build on her prior knowledge, but then she brings back these experiences and continues to build on that," Obertacz said.

Going forward, Obertacz plans to open a new black-box theater inside the Near West facility by the end of the year to host performances and act as a learning lab for young actors.

Trinidad Rosado as "Dorothy" in "The Wiz" in 1995 [Near West Theatre]

Snider wants the young cast members of Near West Theatre to have similar experiences to the ones she had onstage as a youth, but she wants them to learn offstage lessons as well.

"I think it's really important for them to have, yes, the community building and those loving relationships and making those friendships for life. But we also want to give them an education when it comes to theater and the arts. So they can leave our organization and feel completely well rounded," Snider said.

The new leadership team knows they both have a lot to live up to following the departure of Navis and Morrison Hrbek.

"We're not here to be the next Bob and Stephanie, we're going to be the best Mike and Trinidad that we can possibly be. So there will be times that our community might have to steer us along the way and help us find the right answers to challenges, but we need to be a community as we move forward," Obertacz said. "It's going to take a village as we move forward because we do understand how challenging it is to make these changes after 40 years of that style of leadership."

Mike Obertacz and Trinidad Snider [ideastream]

Snider's first mainstage production as director comes in November with the musical "Big Fish" based on the Tim Burton film. Auditions will be held at the end of August.

Near West Theatre stages its annual Summer Teen production, the musical " Chess," July 19 through August 4.


Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.