Nathan Motta is a conductor, a composer and the artistic director of Cleveland Heights's Dobama Theatre, which stages only regional or world premieres.
Cleveland creds: moved here in 2006
Currently lives: Cedar-Lee
Schooling: bachelor's from Carnegie Mellon, master's from Eastman School of Music
Favorite locally owned restaurants: Zanzibar, Marotta's, Nighttown, Rib Cage, Nora.
Why's it called Dobama?
Nathan: We get asked that question a lot, especially because of President Obama. No one could have foreseen him in 1959, when we began. Our founders went back and forth about a name. They finally took the first two letters of each person's given name: Donald Bianchi, Barry Silverman and Mark Silverberg.
With so many theaters in town, how's Dobama different?
Nathan: We're the only local theater whose entire season is regional or world premieres of new work. We were founded because local theaters weren't taking risks in the types of plays they were doing.
We do 108 performances a year. Our Marilyn Bianchi Kids' Playwriting Festival is the oldest in the country.
We're partnering with Karamu on joint programs and social justice. Tony [Sias] is taking steps to make Karamu sustainable and really grow the next 100 years.
We're partners with Cleveland Play House. We have been doing joint general season auditions.
We have ticket exchanges for our members in numerous theaters. Every theater in Cleveland has its niche.
How has the move from Coventry to the old Y on Lee worked out?
Nathan: Our membership has already tripled since we moved to this space in '09. Our operating budget has doubled in the past five years to $550,000.
What's your next show about?
Nathan: "The Flick" is about three people cleaning up a single-screen theater and discovering a lot about themselves and each other. It won the Pulitzer. It's one of the funniest and most authentic scripts I've ever read.
How did last year's controversial "Octoroon" go over, with a black actor in whiteface?
Nathan: The playwright doesn't pull any punches in addressing America's history of racism, among other things. It ran just before and after the election. Afterwards, it all the sudden seemed even more relevant. We all had to talk it over and make sure our performance didn't change much, even though our world had. The audiences were even more committed and locked in.
Our audiences were really representative of all ages and races and genders. There were a couple walkouts every night, which happened at every theater that's produced it elsewhere. We had one or two emails saying, "We felt bad that the actors had to do those things." But we received overwhelmingly positive feedback. The discussions before and after really helped. What was originally a big risk surpassed all our expectations artistically and in how we served our community.
How's the local talent?
Nathan: Cleveland has a wealth of theater talent. I've tried to give them as fair compensation as we can. We became an Equity theater in 2014. The whole community is working to give them more good work they can sink their teeth into.
Favorite local performers?
Nathan: It's hard for me to play favorites. But Chris Bohan most recently was Black Stache in "Peter and the Starcatcher"--an over-the-top, showman Captain Hook type. Now he's in "The Flick." His role is humorous but also heartbreaking and gritty. People are going to get to see his range.
Are theater people as cutthroat here as they're said to be in New York?
Nathan: Theater communities everywhere have a small-town feel. But in New York there is a survival-of-the-fittest mentality because it's so oversaturated with talent. In Cleveland, I find it to be really supportive. It's like a little family. Everybody knows everybody.
Has any of your music been played in town?
Nathan: I wrote a musical theater adaptation of "Midsummer Night's Dream" called "Midsummer" that was performed by Heights Youth Theatre. I've had a lot of inquiries about getting it on a professional stage, but I've been so busy I haven't been able to do the edits.
Where are you from?
Nathan: Born in Livingston, N.J. Grew up in Rockland County, N.Y.
When did you get interested in theater?
Nathan: In sixth grade, I had a crush on a girl, and she did the school show, so I followed her. I actually played opposite to her in the show.
First impressions of Cleveland?
Nathan: I was here for a conference downtown about 2000. Downtown seemed kind of dead. When I moved here in 2006, Cleveland had changed so much, and my first week happened to be the Feast of the Assumption. That was definitely alive.
Why'd you move here?
Nathan: After grad school, I was broke and came here for a job teaching performance arts at Laurel School and freelancing gigs with Ohio Light Opera and Opera Cleveland.
In New York, I would see and hear the struggles of people who'd even been in Broadway shows. The cost of living is low here, and there are ample opportunities too.
I was going to move back to New York after saving money. Then Dobama came to me. I started the Dobama Emerging Actors Program in 2010. I was named associate director in '12 and artistic director in '13.
Like it here?
Nathan: I really fell in love with Cleveland. It's got that gritty, fun, quirky feel. It's got so many hidden-treasure neighborhoods. They're alive and different, with different offerings.
Favorite local food?
Nathan: The pizza at Marotta's is great, the burgers at Nighttown, the wings at Rib Cage, Nora in Little Italy. I love Sweet Moses for their milkshakes.
I love Zanzibar in Shaker Square. I get the honey-glazed fried chicken. It's ridiculously good. You can't eat for a whole day after.
Nathan: I buy tickets every year to the MAC [collegiate Mid-American Conference] tournament. I'm a basketball guy.
I was watching the Cavs game last year at Cowell and Hubbard in Playhouse Square. Then we went to East Fourth and high-fived half of Cleveland.
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