VOICES: You don’t need to go to New York or Los Angeles to experience innovative theatre

Editor’s Note: This is part of a monthly series from Rodney Veal that shares insights and stories from artists and creatives from all corners of our community. As the host of ThinkTV/CET Connect for nine years and a lifelong artist in his own right, Veal has a front-row seat to the impact our arts community has on the wellbeing of our region. With this series, Ideas & Voices hopes to inspire readers to pursue their own creative endeavors and to support those who make our community better through their artistic contributions.

I was recently invited to kick off the speakers series at the Fitton Center in Hamilton, Ohio. I got to share the backstory of how the Art Show on Think TV/CET Connect came to be and how I landed a life-changing gig as the host.

The show has been around for almost a decade, in which we have highlighted and showcased some of the most incredible artists and arts organizations from Southwest Ohio. Having produced 173 episodes, we have had a front-row seat on how Southwest Ohio has grown artistically and culturally. I couldn’t be any more enthusiastic in my praise for this evolution.

As part of my speech, I spoke about how we should be proud of the artistry our communities have produced. I reminded them that we are a part of the Midwest that serves as a feeder program for the artistic and commercial success in New York and Los Angeles arts and cultural scenes. Our greatest export that we never discuss is the exceptional, homegrown creative talent that shapes our world through theatre, music, film, dance, and television.

We have seen many local arts organizations recently change leadership and adopt a renewed focus on their programming to capture a new and uninitiated audience. One such organization is the Human Race Theatre Company.

I attended their season-opening performance of the world premiere musical, “This is Tom Jones!” A raucous, witty, and self-referential musical that found its footing by welding a sixties London rock ‘n’ roll score with knowing comedic nods to the original novel by Henry Fielding.

Beyond being a handsomely mounted production, the defining feature is that it is a world premiere. It is not a tried-and-true, revived classic, but an unproven artistic entity seeking to be embraced and seen by an audience.

And it premiered in Dayton, Ohio.

Producing live theatre productions is a considerable endeavor, requiring vast amounts of human and financial capital. We see loads of national touring productions that appear in our region. Works that have, in many instances, cultural and brand distinctions that most people in the audience can recognize. These plays and musicals were launched in the most extraordinary theatre incubator on Broadway in New York City.

But what if the incubation and risk-taking were to happen somewhere other than Broadway? The Human Race Theatre answers that call by producing new works and new theatre voices like Mark Brown and Paul Mirkovich, creators of “This is Tom Jones!” The cast consisted of many new faces and voices, allowing audiences to witness what could be their first break on the road to achieving that elusive goal of being a working theatre professional — and you can then say that you saw them in Dayton first.

I have written often about the power of art to transform and connect us as human beings. Our region’s arts and cultural health should always be at the forefront of our conversations. The Human Race Theatre Company lives up to the tremendous responsibility that its name implies.

The Human Race Theatre delivers visceral experiences that speak to our connective humanity, from staging theatre classics, undiscovered contemporary gems, and world premieres. Committing to taking chances and reaching for the stars is a win for the organization and audience members. Last season, they closed with “Indigo the Musical,” another world premiere, and a featured cast member from that production is making their Broadway debut this upcoming season.

Instead of looking towards New York or Los Angeles as the arbiters of the artistically new and innovative, you need to purchase a ticket at the Human Race Theatre.

Rodney Veal is the host of thinkTV/CET Connect and President of the board of OhioDance.

About the Author