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Music and performance have been a major part of life in Cincinnati for decades. At right, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra entertains crowds at Riverbend Music. Cincinnati also has the second oldest opera company in America.

Photo/D.A. Fleischer


Performing Arts in Cincinnati

Kathie Brookfield
Cincinnati Promotions Coordinator

Many residents of the Greater Cincinnati area have taken a strong interest in the performing arts, establishing music societies for vocal and instrumental groups, bringing in touring performance groups, and establishing educational institutions devoted to training musicians, dancers, singers, and actors of all ages. When USITT visits the Queen City in March of 2008 attendees will find that Cincinnati is proud to have its own professional ballet, opera and regional theatre companies as well as active community theatres and individuals whose dreams have led them to be community leaders by promoting the arts to young people.

Music has played an important role in the cultural life of Cincinnati. The May Festival was established in 1873 and is the reason the Music Hall was designed, built, and opened with the 1878 performances. The May Festival Chorus was founded in 1880 and is still truly a community group composed of people of all ages and from all walks of life who love to sing.

The Cincinnati Symphony is the fifth oldest in the country and oldest in Ohio founded in 1895. It has a continuing international reputation of premiering works by Debussy, Ravel, and Bartok as well as commissioning new works. Most notable is Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

The second oldest opera company in America was founded in 1920. The Cincinnati Opera performed in the summer at the Cincinnati Zoo Pavilion until it moved to its current home in Music Hall in 1972. It continues to perform four operas each summer that bring internationally known performers, directors, and designers to Cincinnati. The organization also provides outreach programs to school children with performances by members of their young artists program.

Cincinnati is the home of the last survivor of one of America's floating theatre traditions. The Showboat Majestic took to the Ohio River in Pennsylvania in 1923, with Tom Reynolds and his family of 11 who lived, traveled, and performed up and down the Ohio River and its tributaries. The boat was drydocked in Indiana due to the "Safety at Sea Act" of 1965. The City of Cincinnati purchased the boat and docked it at the central riverfront as a focal point for developing the area in 1967. It has continuously provided professional summer stock entertainment using local performers.

The Educational Theatre Association, established in 1929 as the National Thespians, works to promote and strengthen school theatre by recognizing and rewarding excellence and viewing theatre as an instrument of lifelong learning. The organization originally focused on secondary schools and has recently expanded to include middle school and college students preparing for careers in theatre education.

The Association of Community Theater – Cincinnati (ACT) has been operating since 1955 as a non-profit, service organization dedicated to supporting and developing community theatre in the Greater Cincinnati area. In 2005, ACT was inducted into the Ohio Community Theater Association Hall of Fame. There are 18 member groups that are non-professional companies providing communities with entertainment and performance opportunities.

The League of Cincinnati Theatres was established in 1999 to bring together quite a spectrum of groups involved in the performing arts. Anyone with an interest in the performing arts can join this organization. Members of this organization are non-profit production companies as well as actors, directors, playwrights, producers, designers, and venue suppliers such as costume shops, lighting suppliers, and services for sign language interpretation and ticketing.

There are 27 producing organizations including the Tony Award-winning professional regional theatre Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. This theatre was founded in 1959 and opened with its first performance in the Thompson Shelter House in Eden Park. In 1968 a second performance space opened allowing two productions to perform. It has won international acclaim performing in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. A very important part of the community, it provides classes and entertainment programming to young people both on-site and touring in-school productions performed by a company of acting interns.

Founded in 1986, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati is a professional equity theatre dedicated to the production and development of new works, and home to regional, world, and off-Broadway premier productions.

Three university programs also are members of the League. They include Northern Kentucky University, Xavier University Players, and The University of Cincinnati - College Conservatory of Music. The Conservatory is the largest single source of performing arts events with close to 1,000 performances per year ranging from solo vocal and instrumental recitals, chamber music, jazz ensembles, and full orchestras to full scale opera, musical theatre, drama, and dance performances.

Check out the League of Cincinnati Theatres' website for a complete listing of all the member organizations, and if time permits, enjoy what they have to offer when the 49th Annual Conference & Stage Expo is in Cincinnati from March 18 to 21, 2009.

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