A New Stage: Judson Manor’s Theatre in the Circle Earns a 2018 Cleveland Arts Prize Nomination

Ask Judson Manor residents Bill and Mark Corcoran how they feel about their nomination for a 2018 Cleveland Arts Prize, and you’ll hear words like “pleased,” “proud,” and even “dumbfounded.” The nomination recognizes the Corcorans’ work in establishing the groundbreaking Theatre in the Circle at Judson Manor, the independent retirement living community in University Circle.

Veteran theater producers, directors and writers, the Corcorans launched their project in 2016, in response to what they saw as a gap in the neighborhood’s cultural life: no live professional theater. Since then, they have offered seasons of four to five fully realized productions inside Judson Manor, utilizing local theater artists and iconic professional actors.

The Corcorans have consciously chosen plays that resonate with older audiences, including gems like “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” “I Do! I Do!” and the romantic two-hander “Love Letters,” starring the grande dame of Cleveland theater, Dorothy Silver.

Despite its youth, the project has drawn rousing applause from audiences. “We haven’t done any shows yet that bombed,” Mark chuckles. “But seriously, we have some very sophisticated patrons in this building, and everyone tells us that each production is ‘the best one yet.’”

The project is extraordinary in several ways. First, Theatre in the Circle is the only Cleveland theater venue to offer direct hearing loop technology, which transmits sound directly to hearing aids and cochlear implants. More outstanding still, it is the only resident-helmed professional theater company in a retirement community in the entire United States. “We’ve got something unique in the nation, here,” says Mark, “and we’re trying to make the most of it.”

All of which serves to make this nomination deeply gratifying. Since the Cleveland Arts Prize’s inception in 1960, the organization has been committed to celebrating and cultivating artistic excellence in Northeast Ohio. Annual awards recognize achievement in a variety of disciplines; the Corcorans nomination came in the theater and dance category.

While nominations are actively encouraged from community leaders and arts organizations, as well as from the community at large, the Corcorans have no idea who nominated them. “Not a clue,” says Mark. “When the email arrived telling us we’d been nominated, we were shocked. This is a very prestigious award, and for an organization as young as ours to be nominated is just wonderful.”

“It gives us some ‘street cred,’” Bill agrees. “We are still a new kid on the block; the nomination alone is enough to make people sit up and take notice.”

Not that Theatre in the Circle has been flying entirely beneath the radar; Not only have audiences grown with every performance, but attendance figures show that six out of ten attendees come from outside the Judson communities. “Now, that may include friends and family of Judson members,” allows Mark, “but that’s still a really good feeling.”

Beyond recognition, award winners receive a $10,000 prize. Had they won, the Corcorans say the prize money would go toward matching a $30,000 Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grant that they snagged on their very first application.

Still, the money would change little about their project, they agree. “Our primary reason for doing this has been the personal satisfaction,” says Bill. “We are doing our best now, and winning the Arts Prize wouldn’t change that.”

“I’m not holding my breath,” adds Mark. “It will be great if we get it, but really, we are thrilled with just getting the nomination!”

Cleveland Arts Prize winners were announced last week, and although Theatre in the Circle did not win, it was still an honor to be considered for this prestigious award.

To learn more about Theatre in the Circle, click here!

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