Building bridges, reshaping tribes, nurturing empathy
– By Thom Mariner
Kevin Reynolds was looking for a way to give back. Mike Boberg was ready to stick his toe back into the arts. Together, they are helping to shape the future of Commonwealth Artists Student Theatre, a newly renamed high school summer theater program in Northern Kentucky.
Reynolds and Boberg were the first two members of a nonprofit board formed to expand upon what was known as Commonwealth Artists Summer Theatre, founded in 2012 by Highlands High School theater director Jason Burgess and his wife, choreographer Amy Burgess.
CAST aims to offer summer opportunities to students – to “stretch” these young thespians, and “to tackle projects a typical school system might not or could not mount,” said Reynolds. Previous seasons featured “The Producers,” “Ragtime,” “Spamalot” and “Les Miserables” – technically challenging and, in some cases, thematically, well … mature. Plus, the Highlands auditorium offers, as Reynolds suggests, all the bells and whistles, affording students from smaller schools an opportunity to experience theater in new and exciting ways.
For the coming season, CAST will produce “Shrek the Musical,” known for its technical challenges in stagecraft and makeup, and “O Beautiful,” by Cincinnati native Theresa Rebeck, the company’s first dramatic play.
Through stretching the company’s capabilities, the Burgesses realized the need to expand their talent base beyond Highlands and Fort Thomas. The casting for “Ragtime,” for example, required talented African-American actors, dancers and singers, so they reached out to Michael Sherman, Walnut Hills High School’s director. Other shows have needed a variety of talents. The result is that this season will feature students from 24 area high schools.
According to Reynolds, a desire exists for additional shows, workshops, internships, job shadowing, master classes, etc., to replace what has been lost through cuts to school arts funding. To emphasize the important roles young artists would play in running and executing each show, the organization’s name changed from “Summer” Theatre to “Student” Theatre.
In 2016, Reynolds attended CAST’s production of “Spamalot.” He was impressed enough by the quality he saw that he jumped at the chance to help. Reynolds had been given a second chance at life as the recipient of a new kidney, so he admittedly is open to opportunities to give back. The theatrical world had been so nurturing when he was in high school, this seemed logical. He brings 30 years of nonprofit experience through positions with the March of Dimes, Butler County United Way, Summerfair and, since 2005, Cincinnati Public Radio, as community relations manager.
When CAST needed someone to advise on financial issues, Reynolds approached Boberg’s husband, Ronny Watson, who works for a Big Four accounting firm. Unfortunately, travel made Watson’s participation impossible, but Boberg raised his hand: “I might be interested … .” Having left ArtsWave for the Jewish Foundation 18 months before, Boberg was feeling the itch to reconnect, at least avocationally, with the arts.
During 15 years at ArtsWave, Boberg helped establish and managed BOARDway Bound, a board training program, and mentored small to medium-sized arts organizations in grant writing and strategy. And he loves theater, having also “found his tribe” through high school stage work, and having remained active over the years.
“I knew what that kind of support did for me at that time when you’re finding your voice and figuring out what life is all about,” Boberg said.
This theme of “tribes” seems central to the program’s mission – “showing kids there are ‘tribes’ beyond geographic limitations,” Boberg explained. Referring to CAST’s new partnership with The Carnegie, Boberg added, “We are crossing the Licking River divide, building bridges between Northern Kentucky communities, and also Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky at the same time.”
“We are crossing the Licking River divide, building bridges between Northern Kentucky communities, and also Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky at the same time.” – Mike Boberg
The company’s tagline, “Theatre for Life,” came directly from student input, and this is what Reynolds and Boberg see as the end game.
The key byproduct, according to Boberg, is the empathy that develops through being immersed in theater, exposing yourself emotionally and making friends from different places. He spoke of the Parkland, Florida, students who led the anti-gun protests in reaction to the shooting there last winter, pointing out that those student leaders were part of their school’s theater program.
“Ultimately, we want them all to come out of this being theater lovers,” Reynolds said, “to attend performances, support the art form and (as they are able) to sponsor it.”
CAST 2018 Shows
June 29-31 & July 6-8
“O Beautiful,” by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Michael Sherman
The Carnegie, Covington
July 13-15 & 20-22
“Shrek the Musical”
Directed by Jason Burgess
Choreographed by Amy Burgess
Highlands High School, Fort Thomas
859-474-2811 or caststages.org