Thursday, March 26, 2015

CIFF: 'Move On!' Shows the Heart of Near West Theatre

Photo courtesy of Move On!
One member was discriminated against for her race. Another was rejected by a casting director for her weight. But not here. These actors are accepted at Near West Theatre. That's the kind of place it is — one where people, whether they may be black, white, gay, straight, disabled or able-bodied, can have a turn in the spotlight.

Move On! captures the heart of the diverse community theater by chronicling the group's farewell show in its former location on the third floor of the Club Building at St. Patrick's Church. Since 1978, the theater has had incredible reach — more than 15,000 adults, teens and children have been a part of its productions. What they do is so impactful that former members, including one battling cancer, came from as far as Iowa and New York to be a part of the final show.

Artistic director Bob Navis Jr. steals the documentary with his colorful comments — This is assaultive theater! — and unconventional teaching methods — pulling out a candle that inspires members to discuss problems group-therapy style. It's soon apparent that while Navis encourages members to build a character onstage, he's really teaching them to use theater as a way to find themselves.

While much of the film mourns a place that became a home for so many budding artists, it also opens the door for another era in Near West's vibrant new $7.3 million space anchoring Gordon Square Arts District and makes the argument that  — if for heart alone — you'll want to grab a seat for their shows.

The Cleveland International Film Festival runs through March 29. To view a schedule, visit Near West Theatre opens its season with Shrek the Musical April 24.

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