Saturday, November 3, 2018

Professor Street Theater

2275 Professor Street (1992)
It was November 4, 1992. We were having rehearsal for our third week of performances of You Have the Right to Remain Silent!

I went up to the office during a break to check the election returns on CNN, where I was stunned to see the projected returns quite solidly suggested that Bill Clinton was going to win.

The idea that twelve years of Republican presidency, and specifically the Reagan-Bush Era, was coming to a close, was beyond my ken.

In 1980 I was twelve. Then I was twenty-four.

I came downstairs and announced the news, which led to a general cheer from the entire company.

Retro, our more libertarian member, sneered, “Man. What the hell are you people gonna write about now?”

The space was the Professor Street Theater. We’d signed the lease in August, $700 a month for two thousand feet of performance space downstairs and four rooms upstairs.

Four could squat for $175 each and we’d never need to generate a penny’s worth of profit for our work. We presented Silent! for eight months, closing in May to take a short break, produced a Shakespeare and then vacated for a different Tremont location.

Retro held onto the lease for a while, creating and presenting the Off-Hollywood Flick Fest there before the owner sold the place and it was a private residence and artists’ studio for nearly twenty-five years before the coffee shop Beviamo relocated there last year.

Professor Street Theater (above) and Beviamo Cafe (below)

Last April, I stepped into the space at 2275 Professor for the first time for the first time in almost a quarter century for a latte, and to get majorly freaked out.

It’s the same room, only so much brighter and different. Our early 90s landlord was adamant about our not changing a thing about the building, he pitched a fit when we painted a sign on the front door without his permission. It was easier to ask forgiveness.

The walls had been paneled all the way to the ceiling, the present occupants stripped away top level revealing fashionable brick, and painted the lower part white, brightening to room. We had papered over the windows for show privacy and to render the room entirely dark if necessary. Now the room is full of natural light.

Then & now.
While there are a few major alterations (the bathroom has been rerouted) what was startling was how the same the room felt. It was disorienting, sitting on a new platform in the window, sipping coffee and looking over the space like a hovering ghost.

Thoughts of a revival were inevitable. What if we staged a fundraiser, reading old scripts, or even writing new ones, right here where it all happened? No, really, maybe we shouldn’t. And besides, no one knows where the scripts are anymore. I don’t have them.

So what did we have to write about, now that "our guy" was going to the White House? We had only for two been weeks criticizing the George H. W Bush administration, would we now be praising and supporting this new president? Waving the flag for the status quo?

We did begin that way, we had to. He repealed the gag rule, that abortion could not be discussed in the military. And we would champion his attempts at health care reform and allowing gays to serve openly in the military … two agendas which failed, and failed badly in short order.

Much of our work turned inward, and by that I mean not only introspective (and also, unfortunately, at each other) but more local.

In the final days of 1992, an African-American man died while in police custody. He had been placed in a choke hold which rendered him unconscious, and was later determined to have been the cause of death. Then, as now, excessive force is an issue which plagues the Cleveland police department. Torque wrote a piece about that.

The choke hold play (title?)
There were audience members who openly objected to the political stuff, especially when it wasn’t funny. We took a stand against being portrayed as a sketch comedy group (or God forbid, improv) and intentionally threw in conceptual pieces for their own sake, with no punchline whatsoever.

The Scene Magazine reviewer, turgidly recounting every minute sexual reference from the performance he witnessed (even creating a few where they didn't existed) claimed the choke hold scene "backfired like a '62 Buick."

He also described Beemer as a "solid gold b----," so I guess that's funny?

After election day we retired a piece written by Jelly Jam, one I was proud to have had a hand in, creating a recorded soundscape of musical and nature sounds, and a weird voice-over (Lee's voice slowed down.)

With the lights dimmed, the entire company of seven crawled the floor, rose to their feet, came together but then fell away as the voice described and ancient ritual which made a people strong, but as more and more failed to participate, the civilization collapsed.

The ritual was called “voting.”

Yes, we were young and determined and optimistic and basic. We were also right.

Vote on November 6th.


Source: "Comedy for the Young at Heart" by Keith Joseph, Cleveland Scene, 2/18/1993

Thanks to Kim Martin for the 2018 photos!