The moniker “Portland of the East” is one used to describe cities in the Eastern half of the country that embody a rich mixture of food, arts, and culture with a strong creative community as a foundation. One where locals feel their individual contribution matters and they can make a difference. Cleveland has all the right ingredients to have been mentioned on those terms.
In the past two to three years, Northeast Ohio has seen a surge in the number of local breweries and restaurants as well as events for comedy, theater, music, and others arts. A growing local creative community is important because that’s where people come together to collaborate in bringing ideas and inspirations to life.
“You can’t sit on your living room couch thinking all day, writing jokes and call yourself a comedian,” says Dave Schwensen, a local author and comedy coach. “You have to get out there in front of an audience and that’s what I prepare people for. Taking that first step.” Schwensen encourages his students to go to open mics, test their material, meet other comedians, and be part of the community and the support system it offers. His point is a valid one which applies to not just comedy, but also writing, acting, and other creative pursuits. It requires action to reap the benefits of valuable experience, feedback, and opportunities to learn and collaborate.
“If you want people to come see your stuff, go see their stuff,” says Erin Dolan, a local actor, playwright, and teaching artist. “If you want to make local art, support local art. Go to things that aren’t necessarily your thing. You never know what might inspire something. Talk to someone, when you go to those places and check out all of those things that you’ve been wanting to do, introduce yourself to the people doing them. Become a familiar face.”
Feeling alone or isolated can stifle personal creativity and inspiration. No matter how specific or vague your creative urges might be, taking that first step, any step, is one in the right direction. The list below shows just a few of the resources the local area has to offer. While it’s not a complete guide, there are several options to find that first step along with the encouragement that there’s a creative Cleveland out there, waiting for you to become part of it.
Everyone has a novel in them, so the saying goes. One of the best resources in the area for classes, workshops, and networking events is Literary Cleveland. It offers a wide variety of different writing related learning. Whether you’re into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, or essay writing, there’s likely a class that will pique your interest. Their website also includes links to events and other local writing resources. On social media, there are groups like CLElance Writers where you can find various postings for freelance writing opportunities and gigs. Also check out Cleveland Writers Meetup Group, which aims to “develop Cleveland based writers for commercial publication.” Think of this as “open mic” night to get your work in front of people interested in publishing, and helping you to get there.” Story Club Cleveland offers an open opportunity to submit stories to perform.
It’s no joke that the comedy scene in Cleveland is growing rapidly. A great entry point to start learning is to take a class or workshop. Dave Schwensen stand-up workshop culminates in a performance at the Cleveland Improv Comedy Club in The Flats. Michael Busch, an actor, writer, and comedian, offers coaching, sketch writing, and improv workshops around town. Social media offers a variety of valuable resources, such as the Cleveland/Akron Comedy Facebook group, which offers a list of open mics, posts about local shows, and other updates. You can also follow various improv groups that exist in the Cleveland Improv Community group and get out to other regularly-held shows, such as Share-apy, Mental Illness with Friends, and No F**ks Given.
If you’re looking to follow your musical inclinations the local music scene is a good place to start. Hang out at smaller, recognized local venues such as The Happy Dog, Mahall’s, The Grog Shop/B-Side, and The Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. The Bop Stop, located in The Music Settlement, hosts different events catered towards musicians. The Music Settlement, located in Ohio City and University Circle, also offers classes and has been voted best music instruction multiple times. Places like The Lakewood Music Collective and Tri-C offer a variety of courses on learning instruments to mastering recordings. Open mics are also hosted at places such as Kelley’s Pub, The Root Cafe, and Iggy’s Tavern. Follow those and other local bars and coffee shops on social media to see when those opportunities arise. Formal classes are also a good way to learn.
If you fancy yourself an actor, there are several places for instruction. Houde School of Acting and Beck Center for the Arts offer classes and also host several shows. Cleveland Public Theatre has events, plays, and various workshops, as well as an open mic called The Dark Room for new and experienced playwrights to try out new material and get feedback. The Gordon Square Arts District website has several resources about theaters and events in that area. You can also see performances at Playhouse Square or check out a smaller, more intimate venue such as Blank Canvas Theatre. Follow those and other local theaters on social media for info on events or even auditions.
If you’re a shutterbug and want to take it further, taking a class is a viable first step. Dodd Camera has classes in multiple stores around Cleveland. A good place to be part of the community and learn is the Cleveland Photographic Society, which offers classes and events to mingle with other photographers. The Beck Center also offers visual art classes, as does The Cleveland Institute for Art. For painting, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a great place to visit and also take classes to learn. Visiting and going to events at the local art galleries such as The Good Goat Gallery is also a nice way to get out there and get exposure. 78th Street Studios has several art galleries and offers tours. Follow these and other places on social media as well to get updates and visibility to what’s going on and where.
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Tesh Ekman was born in India, moved to the U.K. when he was 4, and came to Cleveland, OH, USofA in 1992 at the age of 14. An Ohioan since, he absolutely hates the question “Where Are You From?” Tesh is both a U.K. and U.S. citizen - however, India no longer wants to claim him as one. While difficult to be shunned by one’s own birth nation, it also means he’s used to rejection, which has served him well as a writer and person in general. Tesh is mostly a homebody, but if he does venture out, he can usually be found at various local establishments, drunkenly rueing his life choices and/or supporting Liverpool FC in a sudden-onset English accent.