One of our family’s favorite activities is attending plays and musicals. Whether we take all of the kids or it’s just my wife and me on a date night, we always love our time at the theater. Cleveland has a wonderful performing arts center in Playhouse Square, which has been home to shows like “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” “Hello Dolly,” and more. This summer “Dear Evan Hansen” is coming to Connor Palace and we plan to see it again after rave reviews from my wife and two oldest kids who saw it in NYC this past spring.
As amazing as Playhouse Square and other large performing arts centers are, for families looking for inexpensive entertainment options, it’s tough to justify the cost of large Broadway productions. The good news is that Northeast Ohio is somewhat of a hotspot for the performing arts, with over 50 theaters in the local area. If your child is interested in participating in the theater, inexpensive opportunities exist for learning those skills locally, as well.
One local organization that offers both affordable, family-friendly theater productions and performing arts classes for families is Olmsted Performing Arts. First formed in 2003, Olmsted Performing Arts (OPA) has spent the last 15 years training and instructing kids and teenagers in all aspects of performing arts while establishing themselves as one of the premier programs in Northeast Ohio.
Founder Angela Boehm says OPA has few things they like to focus on that make it so much more than just a theater or dance studio.
“We want to teach our students and performers that professionalism and quality training are critical to excelling in their craft. We also want to nurture their creative abilities and create a fun and expressive environment. All of these aspects are important and we don’t want ever to lose sight of one of them.”
Two people with who have learned and taught at OPA are Kaylea Kudlaty and Abbi Cavanaugh. Kaylea happens to be my niece. She’s been interested in performing arts for as long as I can remember. We also had the privilege of getting to know Abbi in high school while we volunteered with our church youth group. I decided to interview Kaylea and Abbi about their experiences in the local theater scene and how that has changed their lives.
What got you first interested in the theatre? How old were you?
Kaylea: I was about 8 years old when I first got into the theatre scene. My grandma introduced me to “Grease” and I watched it nonstop! Because of that my grandpa took me to my first show at Carousel Dinner Theatre (which is closed now) and I was hooked! Once I realized I could do what I saw in Grease in real life, I never wanted to do anything else.
Author’s note: I prefer “Grease 2” to “Grease.” I’m not ashamed to admit that and will defend that opinion to the death even though I am the only person who believes such nonsense. The guy built his own motorcycle from scratch, OK?! Kaylea is fully aware and completely disagrees.
Abbi: I took dance lessons starting at age 3. That was my main focus for several years — recitals, competitions, etc. Then, during my freshman year at Magnificat High School, my dance friends encouraged me to audition for the fall musical with them (Magnificat utilizes a lot of dance in their musical productions). So, I auditioned for and was cast in my first musical, Aida. I was 14 years old at the time. At that point, I caught the “theatre bug” and haven’t stopped since!
Where did you get your start locally? What classes did you take? What productions did you audition for?
Kaylea: What’s great about theatre is that almost every single middle and high school offers an after-school drama club. My school did quite a few shows every year. My favorite part of school was knowing at three o’clock I got to go to rehearsal. So that was my start in actually getting to perform. My first show in community theatre was “Anything Goes” at Cassidy Theatre. That was the summer going into my senior year and it was so fun! Again, most of my training came from what my school offered, drama classes, choir, and show choir taught me everything throughout school (And they were free!). Eventually, I started taking tap and ballet classes through adult friends who would work with me and what my family could afford. When I was first beginning to perform, I auditioned mainly for musicals with a few plays mixed here and there.
Abbi: Outside of school, I got my community theatre start at Olmsted Performing Arts. I started out by taking voice lessons with Lauren Berry and performing in their production of Footloose. After that, I joined their dance academy, where I took ballet, pointe, jazz, and contemporary.
I know you were involved with OPA for a while. How was that experience?
Kaylea: OPA gave me many opportunities. They were the first theatre to hire me to choreograph for them and to teach younger kids voice, acting and dance classes. It was fun!
Abbi: I have been involved with OPA for about seven years now! It has been an incredible ride. I have taken voice lessons and dance classes from incredible, well-qualified, encouraging instructors. In addition, I performed in their musical productions, “The Nutcracker,” and voice and dance recitals. Another really impactful experience I had with them during high school was performing with their seasonal and Disney Dance Companies.
Since high school, I have been given an immense amount of opportunity with OPA. Honestly, OPA has given me the opportunity to get my ‘start’ in my professional career. I have taught dance classes to all ages, choreographed for a summer dance company, recital, and several musicals, and even had the opportunity to direct a youth musical this past summer!
OPA has been so much more than just training, performing, and teaching for me. The people at OPA are a strong community and family. I have lifelong friends and a beautiful support system there!
How did your family afford to pay for your involvement in OPA and other theatre opportunities? Did your family make any sacrifices to allow for those things to happen?
Kaylea: The biggest sacrifice my family had to make was time. Theatre is not an expensive hobby, but it is time-consuming. From nightly rehearsals to tech week to performances, any given show can easily take up two months of time. It made for many nights where I couldn’t eat dinner with family or had to miss a family party. However, there are many shows these days that are cast “intergenerational,” meaning people from every age. Parents and kids can all do shows together and spend that rehearsal time together. I have worked on many shows where families have all performed together and they always talk about how fun it was and how much of a great bonding experience it was as well. It’s truly special to see your kid shine on the stage but when you’re next to them something is just a little brighter.
Abbi: Dance and theatre can be expensive, but I think that OPA is well-priced compared to the rest of the market. They are definitely conscious of expenses. I honestly don’t know how my parents did it though! I was involved in a whole lot while growing up — dance classes, voice lessons, musicals, high school competitive dance team, etc. I am sure that some sacrifices had to be made.
What skills did you get from the theatre that translate to other areas of your life and work?
Kaylea: Theatre has definitely helped me with my confidence in everyday life. From public speaking to just being more outgoing and not nervous to talk to people that I don’t know. It forces you to live outside your comfort zone and do something you might be afraid of. The effects of that make me feel completely different from where I was a few years ago. I truly think it helped me call the doctor to schedule my own appointments! On top of that, it’s brought me many friends that I could not imagine my life without. I met my fiancé through theatre as well!
Each show is unique and special and has a different meaning. Some are more light-hearted and funny, others deep and thoughts provoking and can leave a big impact on the audience.
Abbi: My experience in theatre has taught me a lot of skills that translate to my life and work. Researching, studying, and developing a character has given me a sensitivity to the fact that everyone has a story that is so deep and core to their emotions and actions.
Also, theatre has taught me so much about professionalism – punctuality, preparedness, proper dress, responsibility, listening carefully, following instruction, and so much more!
What are your thoughts on the theater scene in Northeast Ohio?
Kaylea: Northeast Ohio is one of the best communities for theatre in America. With over 50 theatres to be a part of, we truly are lucky as a community to thrive in the arts as much as we do. From professional to youth, most theatres do a fantastic job of training and producing top shows at half the cost of what Broadway offers.
Abbi: From my research and experience, there are a TON of opportunities for involvement in community theatre in Northeast Ohio! I am always seeing audition postings. I’ve seen productions from several community theaters, and I always leave inspired.
As for professional theatre, we are so fortunate to have the third largest theatre district in the country (Playhouse Square). This is SO amazing! Although, I think that this causes a lack of professional regional theatres in our area that are hiring local talent. In the Phoenix area, where I moved for school, we have several equity/non-equity professional theatres, producing high-caliber productions. These professional theatres usually hold general auditions open to the public, which is a great opportunity for students to audition and/or work in a professional setting! All of that being said, I would love to see Northeast Ohio develop in this direction a bit!
What advice would you give to parents looking for inexpensive local productions for their families to attend?
Kaylea: Support local theatre. Many theatres offer a “preview night special,” typically the Thursday before opening night, and tickets are almost half off! The show is just as good as it is during its normal runtime and you can enjoy the evening with your whole family for half the cost.
Abbi: There are SO many awesome local community theatres and productions!! You can search “community theatre” on Yelp.com to find some great theatres to look into! Most of these theatres will have a website with ticket information.
What advice would you give families looking for inexpensive theater learning opportunities for their kids?
Kaylea: Do your research! Many companies offer classes as well as productions (i.e. Beck Center, Weathervane, and Cassidy) for a decent price. On top of that, a lot of places (Counterpoint Studios, OPA) offer free drop-ins so you can experience the class and see if it’s something worth investing in the first place.
Abbi: Getting involved in theatre at school is a great place to start, and it is usually free! That way, kids can “get their feet wet” before you’re paying for training. Then, I would recommend auditioning for a community theatre production. Even if there is a production fee, it will probably be less costly than a semester-long class, and your child will be getting 6+ weeks of training and experience!
Kaylea Kudlaty studied Performing Arts at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. After school, she returned to Northeast Ohio to teach and inspire kids involved in the performing arts. Kaylea currently teaches dance, voice, and acting classes as well as private lessons. For more info, contact Kaylea at [email protected]. You can see Kaylea in upcoming local productions, like “Miracle on 34th Street” at Medina County Showbiz November 30-December 9 and “Suds” at Clague Playhouse, running March 8-31, 2019.
Abbi Cavanaugh is currently pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Dance Performance at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. She just finished a run of “West Side Story,” as Clarice, at Phoenix Theatre, a professional regional theatre in Phoenix. She performed 40 shows over 6 weeks. Up next, Abbi will be performing in “Singin’ In the Rain,” as Kathy Selden, at Hale Centre Theatre Arizona, which will run from February 14-March 30. You can follow Abbi’s adventures on Instagram.
While Olmsted Performing Arts is an excellent option for local families, it’s not the only option. Northeast Ohio has a rich performing arts culture. There are tons of theaters and youth programs for kids to get involved and learn.
A great resource for finding information on all that our area offers as far as performing arts is the Cleveland Stage Alliance Website. There you will find information on just about every program in the area.
I wish I was able to highlight every great performing arts program in Northeast Ohio. I’m sure there are some readers wishing I had mentioned a program they’ve had experience with and loved. Are your kids involved in a local performing arts program? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear about your experience so we can promote more great programs!