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By Mark Mangie – Tonight, I was fortunate to attend the premier of Youngstown native Rob Zellers’ new play, Mr. Wheeler’s.   For those of you who don’t know his history, Mr. Zellers has had an outstanding career in theater. Director of Education for the Pittsburgh Public Theater for many years, his works have been produced at universities and theaters across the country. Although Youngstown is the setting for several of his plays, his plays are not about Youngstown.   There are references to the Youngstown area, but the plays center around universal themes that have exhibited themselves in unique ways across the broad swath of America referred to as the Rust Belt. Mr. Wheeler’s is no exception.  Performed by students at Youngstown State’s Spotlight Theater, don’t go expecting a walk down memory lane to the Mr. Wheeler’s we grew up with.  It’s 2005 and Mr. Wheeler’s is in decline as the neighborhood around it is taken over by gang-bangers.  Inside the safety of the restaurant, a young staff tries to keep the restaurant alive along with their personal dreams…and more importantly…their jobs. Each faces his/her own crisis of conscience as they try to find a path off the bottom rung of the ladder.  Personal compromise between ideals and reality is hard to achieve as the ugliness around them forces itself into the center of the old, decrepit restaurant as well as their lives. This play is not for everyone.  It is not a feel-good romp through Youngstown’s past.  The young, rock-solid cast belies the grittiness of the subject matter.  Profanity and violence are prominent throughout by necessity.  The story is a little tough to get into because story line is harsh.  But midway through the first act you start to gain interest in the characters, and by the end of the first act you are totally hooked. The second act is suspenseful, action packed and filled with surprises.  One criticism…the ending is somewhat disjointed and seems thrown together.  Hopefully Mr. Zellers can tighten it up a bit in an otherwise stellar piece of theater.  That is how plays are honed because it is in performance you can see and correct the flaws. The Youngstown State University College of Creative Arts and Communication does an outstanding job of nurturing and promoting local talent both from within and without the university itself.  This production was graciously underwritten by Jack Scott and Julie Michael Smith…and well worth their investment.  If you love theater and especially the “process” of theater…as well as a good story and night of talented entertainment…Mr. Wheeler’s is a great night out.  Bliss Hall / Spotlight Theater / February 16 – 25.

POA Arts & Culture Grantseeker Symposium – October 19, 2017 – St. John’s Episcopal Church – $15 advance/$20 at the door Power of the Arts brings together the Ohio Arts & Humanities Councils, Ohio Citizens for the Arts, Mahoning Valley foundations, arts and culture nonprofits, and individual artists, to discuss arts and culture funding in the Valley and Ohio. St. John’s will host the event in the Great Hall. George Nelson of The Business Journal will moderate the panel and Q&A. Dinner by Café India. Dana School of Music students will play a brief jazz set showcasing Dana’s Steinway, housed at St. John’s: Jason Volovar on piano, Matt Jackson on bass guitar, Hobie Butcher on drums.

Power of the Arts Historic Theater Bus Tour – October 23, 2017 – $25/Limited Reservations. Did you know that there were once 75 theaters in the City of Youngstown? Join us for a Historic Theatre Bus Tour on Monday, October 23 as we visit some of the city’s iconic surviving performance venues, as well as some that have been lost. Historian Sean Posey will lead the tour, in conjunction with his new book Historic Theaters of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, published by The History Press. The tour begins at the Youngstown Playhouse at 6:30, and makes a few stops downtown  (weather-appropriate clothing is encouraged) before returning to the Playhouse for a reception featuring Old Fashioneds, tasty non-alcoholic drinks and old timey desserts. Those wearing vintage hats will be entered into a theater ticket drawing. Seating is limited. Tickets are available from the Youngstown Playhouse box office, in person or by phone, (330) 788-8739, Tuesday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Economic Impact of the Arts

Ohio Citizens for the Arts is a statewide arts advocacy nonprofit, dedicated to increasing funding and public support for the arts. Their economic impact study, here, shows how the arts compares to other economic drivers in our state. You might be surprised to know that the creative industries support nearly 200,000 jobs in Ohio. Consider joining Ohio Citizens for the Arts, making a difference for the arts and artists in Ohio.  

Power of the Arts at Community Day

Thanks to the Southern Park Mall for including us at Community Day, side-by-side with many tremendous nonprofits in the Valley. It was a pleasure to talk up the arts, McDonough Museum of Art’s newest show, the Youngstown Playhouse’s upcoming season, stroller day and shows at the Butler Institute of Art, information on Oh Wow! and several other venues. Many people told us wistfully, “I haven’t been there in years.” Organize a community event? Let us know. Have promotional materials you’d like us to share with the community? Let us know. poa.infor@gmail.com.