Near West Theatre provokes theatre through a process that is intense, challenging and transforming for participants and audience alike. People from all walks of life come together to be challenged, by sharing their unique life stories and experiences, to find their own voices and to make personal connections with the production. Through this sometimes rugged and ragged process, people not only discover themselves in new ways but also relate to each other through the medium of theatre. Connections are made. Community is formed. The result is authentic, raw and passionate theatre.

Since its inception, more than 15,000 children, teens and adults have been impacted on stage or behind the scenes at NWT. Over 92,000 audience members have experienced the transformational impact of the Theatre. All participants are encouraged regardless of skill level or economic status. In addition to providing audiences with professional caliber, dynamic performances of full-scale Broadway musicals throughout each season, NWT provides technical and performance training to those who participate—entirely free of charge.

Through the Years


Near West Theatre was born. A Cleveland Community Development Block Grant award of $800 initiated the program under the auspices of St. Pat's.


Stephanie Morrison was hired to facilitate the first theatre production that opened in the summer of 1978. 13 teenagers, 11 - 16 years old, from Urban Community School and the housing projects, hung in five days a week to rehearse Godspell. It was performed three times for the local community in August. Community response was even more encouraging than anticipated.


Enter Bob Navis as the program's first musical director. Now called the Near West Side Shared Ministry Youth Theatre, the program began attracting more and more young people.


George Hrbek wrote a proposal which was funded by the George Gund Foundation expanding the theatre programs to include adults.


Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon was produced with the first cast of adults. The theatre was renamed Near West Side Community Theatre (NWSCT). George Hrbek and Stephanie Morrison (now Morrison-Hrbek) co-authored The Peoples of Cleveland: Building Community with Professor then-Ed Miggins of Cuyahoga Community College. This oral history tells the real stories of struggle and triumph of Cleveland's immigrant communities. It played throughout Greater Cleveland in parks, malls, schools and churches for a total of 90 performances over nine years.


The organization received the Governor's Youth Recognition Award for Development.


NWSCT launched its first intergenerational musical under the direction of Bob Navis, setting the course for continued multi-age productions.


With the support of the Ohio Arts Council, NWSCT underwent an organizational restructuring process and changed its name to Near West Theatre (NWT).


NWT and West Side Community Mental Health Center (now Bridgeway) produced Breaking Through, an oral history play about mental health. This project received the Ohio Psychiatric Association's Enlightenment Award and three national awards: National Council of Churches' Ecumenical Recognition Award, a Telly, and a Cindy.


NWT became an independent 501 (c) 3 organization and formed a Board of Trustees, Standing and Ad Hoc Committees. At this juncture, NWT had grown to be a year-round theatre arts program for children, teens and adults with an emphasis on serving youth. NWT received major support from the George Gund, Cleveland and Eleanor Gerson Supporting foundations to expand staff and professionalize operations. NWT and near west side community members created a Strategic Plan with Five Key Performance Areas: Diversity, Promotions, Building, Programming and Fiscal Self Sufficiency.


In keeping with its strategic plan, NWT's season expanded to include five productions. Audiences reached over 6,000 annually.


NWT celebrated its quarter century mark and earned the Governor's Award for the Arts in Community Development and Participation. The Ohio Arts Council rated NWT top in the state among 30 theatres applying for state funds in its budget category (up to $1 million). NWT had the overall highest rankings in Community Participation and Accessibility, Artistic Merit, Organizational/Financial/Project Management, and Planning and Evaluation.


NWT identified a new home on Detroit and W. 67th streets and entered into a partnership with Cleveland Public Theatre and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization to launch the Gordon Square Arts District. This economic development initiative used the arts as the anchor for the district and will revitalize the neighborhood and commercial district from W. 54th to W. 73rd. NWT's plans were supported by a first-time National Endowment for the Arts Grant.


NWT was identified by the Ohio Arts Council as the top-ranked organization in the northeast Ohio region out of 78 arts groups with budgets of $1.5 million or less.

NWT received "Let's Just Play" grant award from Nickelodeon.

NWT completed the conceptual design for its new building with Richard Fleischman Architects. NWT moved its business headquarters to the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood with a street presence on Detroit Avenue, just steps from the future site of NWT's new building.


NWT received a "Champion in Action Award" from Charter One & WJW Fox 8 TV, the first-ever recipient in Ohio. NWT completed a three year engagement with Cleveland Social Venture Partners who provided invaluable assistance in building organizational capacity and executive leadership.

Production History: 1978-2009









The Me Nobody Knows
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope
The Wiz
The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, Cotton Patch Gospel, Peoples of Cleveland: Building Community
Working, Peace Child, 1984
Philemon, The Cat That Walked Alone, Hot L Baltimore
Jacques Brel, Where Do I Go?, A Christmas Carol
Godspell, Fiddler On The Roof, Harvesting My Dreams
Under the Golden Arches, When We Only Have Love
Fame, The King and I
West Side Story, Breaking Through, Museum
Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar
Crimes of the Heart, Man of La Mancha, Music Man
Camelot, Guys & Dolls, How to Eat Like a Child, A Christmas Carol
Godspell, The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, Sound of Music
Our Town, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Breaking Through (Video), Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Wiz
Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, South Pacific, Alice in Wonderland, Hello, Dolly!
The Life in a Day, The Little Prince, Into the Woods, Finian’s Rainbow
Dear World, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, Carousel, Oliver
Bye, Bye Birdie, Seasons of Love, Children of Eden
The Me Nobody Knows, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Carnival, My Fair Lady
Pippin, Follow The Yellow Brick Road, Brigadoon, Free To Be You And Me, Annie
Evita, The Truth About Cinderella, The Baker’s Wife, America: Through The Looking Glass, Scrooge
Zorba, Snoopy!!! , Jesus Christ Superstar
Hercules vs. Godzilla, The King and I, Candide, The Hobbit, Anyone Can Whistle, Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Sweet Charity, Honk Jr., Oklahoma, Godspell
Chess, Aladdin Jr., Merrily We Roll Along, The Music Man
Urinetown: The Musical, Annie Jr., Cats, Beauty and the Beast
The Who's Tommy, Seussical Jr., West Side Story, Finian’s Rainbow
Once on this Island, Sweeney Todd School Edition, The Wiz
The Secret Garden, RENT School Edition, Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka
Into the Woods, Miss Saigon