Paul Moser’s second attempt at free theater arose from past experience. In the early ’90s, he formed the Black River Theater Company, which offered original plays and free Shakespeare for Oberlin College and the surrounding community.
When the economy went sour in 2001, the company folded rather than go into deficit. Afterward, Moser traveled the United States and visited theaters in cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York City. This year, as a result of his efforts to create a sustainable theater model, Moser, the chair of the theater and dance program at Oberlin College, founded the nonprofit Oberlin Summer Theater Festival.
This summer he presents two plays, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with an economy that’s just as sour. But that didn’t deter Moser — or Oberlin president Marvin Krislov. The free inaugural festival, running through July 18, is part of a grander plan.
Still in the planning stages, Oberlin College’s Green Arts
District is a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project aimed at revamping the college’s art community.
“Krislov has a wonderful vision for the area,” Moser says. “We’re hoping this will be a cornerstone operation to keep an audience coming during the summer months.”
With both plays, Oberlin College alumni, faculty and current students are partaking in the production and in Oberlin’s rich theater history: Playwright Thornton Wilder (Our Town) and movie director Julie Taymor (Across the Universe) are counted as theater alumni.
And Patrick Stewart, pre-Star Trek and X-Men fame, performed on the Oberlin stage in The Tempest in the ’80s as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“It’s funny,” Moser says. “It’s almost like there is a tradition here, when launching a summer theater, to do it with The Tempest.”