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Cleveland’s Brownhoist comes alive with micro theater

Cast of "It Calls from Beyond"
Michael Sepesy
"It Calls from Beyond" is one of 15 performances happening at the Brownhoist building this weekend. Pictured left to right: Bob Keefe, Nicole Coury, Tari Bergoine, Amanda Nyx.

Seeing more than a dozen theater performances in a year might seem like a luxury. On Friday and Saturday, you can experience that and more in a weekend.

The first micro theater festival at Cleveland's Brownhoist building takes over the former industrial complex with 15 performances - all happening simultaneously.

"They're staggered throughout the night, and they repeat," said producer Jonathon Morgan. “There's a conference room where there's a site-specific dance piece. There's this big steel vault that got converted into a library space where there's immersive theater. There's a ballroom where somebody's written a new operetta with accordions and tubas and drums - the theme is a debate between Polish and German cuisine.”

Morgan has worked in theater for several decades as a “consistent side hobby," and he said he was inspired by an evening of six simultaneous performances he saw in Buenos Aires.

“Some out of work actors... started making these short, 15-minute plays in whatever spaces they could get their hands on: Little bedroom apartments, backroom spaces," he said. "The idea is that people can... maybe see three or four things and then have time in between these performances that they bump into other people in the community, artists, neighbors, other people who are just there to experience the event.” Morgan, a Northeast Ohio native who returned last year, said his original idea was to have just six plays running at the same time. Yet he found that the region’s “wild creativity” demanded a larger palette.

“We got submissions from people who wanted to do more immersive theater, where the audience are basically characters inside the performance,” he said. “We were so excited by the eclectic and diverse art forms that people wanted to present, we decided to expand the scope a little bit and make it more than just theater.”

In addition to the 15 performances, a painter will create a live mural during the weekend, leaving a permanent mark on the Brownhoist. The 34,000 square foot, 19th century building was used as office space for decades. Last year, it was repurposed as a mixed-use arts and event hub.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.