CAC’s Drew Klein: Cultivating our love of ‘edgy’ with a new performance festival

Drew Klein (photo by Tina Gutierrez)
Drew Klein (photo by Tina Gutierrez)

Drew Klein didn’t invent the Contemporary Arts Center’s passion for live performance.

It has been part of the center’s DNA for more than half a century. True, the institutional interest in performance has seen a lot of lot of ebb and flow. But back in the 1970s and 1980s, the CAC – then located above a Walgreens on Government Square – was the region’s center of avant garde performance. CAC created spectacles on Fountain Square and mammoth presentations in the Taft Theatre, but the majority of its activities were tiny, often challenging performances viewed by no more than 150 people.

That was a memorable period for performance in Cincinnati. For much of the past couple of decades, the volume of legitimately edgy performance material has diminished.

Then, in 2011, Klein stumbled into the position of CAC performance curator, a title that later became performing arts director. He didn’t really know what he was getting into when he took the job. For that matter, CAC wasn’t certain exactly what the position might entail.

“I received the gift of good timing and serendipity,” said Klein in describing his hiring. “I think I showed up at the CAC when they weren’t following a blueprint. They were looking to try new things. The performance program was just a concept.”

For Klein’s part, he was looking to change his creative direction – he had been working in film – and get more hands-on involvement in art-making.

“I returned to Cincinnati with a keenness to create something special and lasting,” he said.

It’s a little early to know if he has attained that broad a scope. But Klein is definitely on his way. He launched the CAC’s Black Box series within months of his arrival. Since then, he has followed up with a handful of increasingly intriguing performances every year. And they have developed a small but enormously faithful audience.

Now, emboldened by the success of those occasional performances, the CAC is ready to try something bigger.

“This Time Tomorrow” is a four-day festival featuring more than two dozen presentations by 11 artists, from small cabaret-type performances and an intimate one-on-one experience to a site-specific, participatory presentation on the Purple People Bridge.

“More than having passion for a particular focus or practice or thing, I’m really excited by that sense of discovery, of finding something new that maybe other people haven’t discovered yet.” – Drew Klein.

It may not match the enormity of some of those long-ago presentations. But TTT, as they’re calling it, is an ambitious festival. With some luck, it just may expand the local audience for edgier performance work.

“My hope is that this is something that will feed the cultural ecology of the city,” said Klein.

Cultural ecology. It’s a nice phrase. It sounds responsible at the same time it nudges the city’s cultural aesthetic forward. Or maybe into places not completely comfortable.

Since his return to Cincinnati (he studied E-Media at the College-Conservatory of Music), Klein has admired other groups that push that envelope – the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, for instance. Long before TTT launched, Klein spoke with Fringe Festival producer Chris Wesselman and Know Theatre producing artistic director Andrew Hungerford. Klein had attended Fringe performances, but he wanted to know how they rated the city’s hunger for “other” performance work. And how far, perhaps, that audience was willing to be pulled.

Immersing himself in challenging art was nowhere on the horizon for Klein as he grew up in Findlay, Ohio.

“I was living a very normal cornbread, WASP-y existence,” he recalled. “I played the three sports that were most popular at the time: football, baseball and basketball.” Late in middle school, he learned he would have to lift weights to become a stronger football or basketball player. It was a deal breaker.

Baseball remained a possibility until he broke two fingers in a ninth-grade snowboarding accident. He soon realized it would be ages before he could catch the ball properly.

“I credit that accident with being the thing that steered me away from sports,” said Klein. “After that, I dedicated myself to punk rock.”

And not just punk. His taste grew to more experimental sounds, to electronic music and noise and various cacophonous music forms. And, of course, to film.

Those passions took him to Barcelona, Spain, to Germany, and to New York City, where he lived for several years. Eventually, he came back to Cincinnati. Here, he discovered, he could be in the thick of it all.

“Here, there is a wonderful, well-supported art ecosystem,” said Theo Erasmus, a CAC board member, a champion of TTT and, having been here just two years, a relative newcomer to the city. “I love that there is a fine opera company and orchestra.”

But, like Klein, he finds especially fascinating the art that lives outside the mainstream. That’s what led to his involvement with Camp Washington’s WavePool Gallery, which is hosting a TTT installation.

“I think a space like this for alternative voices can really make things happen,” said Erasmus. “It challenges a certain narrative of what the city is or it could be. I think it is places like this and like TTT that help cities to find their souls. All that interesting stuff comes from the edges, you know. I’m a big fan of edges.”

So is Klein. And, by its very nature, so is the CAC.

“More than having passion for a particular focus or practice or thing, I’m really excited by that sense of discovery, of finding something new that maybe other people haven’t discovered yet,” said Klein. “I know that not everybody walking in that door is going to feel the same way. But that’s not the point. I love making playlists or telling someone about a film they’ve never heard of. So having the ability to build this new festival? It’s exhilarating.”


This Time Tomorrow

‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’ (Cincinnati Edition) by Mammalian Diving Reflex
‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’ (Cincinnati Edition) by Mammalian Diving Reflex (Photo courtesy CAC/Lucia Eggenhofer)

‘All the Sex I’ve Ever Had’ (Cincinnati Edition)
by Mammalian Diving Reflex 

A group of five to eight Greater Cincinnatians, all over 65 and as-yet unnamed, gather to discuss “the evolution of love and sexuality from the perspective of life’s later years.” 

• April 12-14, 7:30 p.m., Fifth Third Bank Theater, Aronoff Center


‘Running’ by Rashaad Newsome
‘Running’ by Rashaad Newsome 

‘Running’ by Rashaad Newsome 

Newsome is billed as a multidisciplinary artist. But that barely scratches the surface of the variety of his performances. “Running” is an especially elusive work. Seph Rodney, writing in Hyperallergic, said he thought Newsome’s goal in the mostly musical piece was to “nudge the audience towards transcendence.”

• April 11-12, 8 p.m., Hall of Mirrors, Hilton Netherland Plaza


‘Serpentine’ by Daina Ashbee (Photo courtesy CAC/Adrian Morillo)
‘Serpentine’ by Daina Ashbee (Photo courtesy CAC/Adrian Morillo)

‘Serpentine’ by Daina Ashbee

Movement and music meld in a solo work performed by Mexican performance artist Areli Moran.

• April 12-13, 6 p.m., Contemporary Arts Center


‘RopeWalk’ by Amanda Curreri
‘RopeWalk’ by Amanda Curreri

‘RopeWalk’ by Amanda Curreri

Involving 50 participants from local communities, Cincinnati-based Curreri’s piece creates “ropes spanning the bridge as a symbolic and real action of public healing.” Free.

• April 14, 12:30-3 p.m., Purple People Bridge 


Joseph Keckler Live
Joseph Keckler Live

Joseph Keckler Live 

Pianist, singer, composer, humorist, storyteller. Keckler’s performance has one foot in cabaret, the other in performance art. 

• April 13, 8 p.m., 21c Museum Hotel


‘PUSHIT! [an exercise in getting well soon]’ by NIC Kay
‘PUSHIT! [an exercise in getting well soon]’ by NIC Kay

‘PUSHIT! [an exercise in getting well soon]’ by NIC Kay

The site-responsive performance piece is described as “a meditation on emotional labor and the impossibility of the stage as a place for freedom for the black performer.” 

• April 12, 14, 4 p.m., Contemporary Arts Center


‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’ by Tania El Khoury
‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’ by Tania El Khoury

‘As Far As My Fingertips Take Me’ by Tania El Khoury

Lebanese artist El Khoury is best known for her “ear-whispered works.” In this case, the art is a one-on-one experiential work. Patrons sit next to a gallery wall, put on earphones and hear a voice. “Put your arm through the hole in the wall.” That’s the beginning of a surprisingly intimate experience that involves voice and touch.

• April 10-14, every 15 minutes, WavePool Gallery, 2940 Colerain Ave., Camp Washington


‘Tu nombre entre nuestras Lenguas’ by Lorena Molina
‘Tu nombre entre nuestras Lenguas’ by Lorena Molina

‘Tu nombre entre nuestras Lenguas’ by Lorena Molina 

The Cincinnati-based Salvadoran artist chronicles the 1981 massacre of more than 800 people by American-trained Salvadoran troops in the tiny town of El Mozote.

• April 11-14, every 15 minutes, Contemporary Arts Center


‘On Touching’ by Intermedio
‘On Touching’ by Intermedio

‘On Touching’ by Intermedio 

Intermedio is a group of creative souls who meld music, sound, technology and visual arts in ways that often are as mesmerizing to view as they are to hear.

• April 11, 13-14, at 2, 6:30 and 8 p.m., Lightborne Communications, 212 E. 14th St., Over-the-Rhine

Tickets range from $5-$20 for various events.
A full-festival pass is $65. thistimetmrw.com


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