'The world is a stage; the stage is a world'

The new sound, light and recording booth in the middle of the renovated Heights High auditorium, before the Fairfax Cabaret

So, the first kid says, “Did you hear about the actor who fell through the floorboards?” And the other kid says, “Yeah. He was just going through a stage.”

That’s what they said, these two fifth-graders, on the stage of the Heights High auditorium a few weeks ago.

When I attended Cleveland Heights High School, I performed on that stage about a dozen times, mostly as a member of the Heights Choir, and as a soloist or part of small groups from within the choir. Then, decades later, my kids, Dan and Lauren, were in the orchestra and choir, respectively, and they performed many times on that stage. And, I should add, Dan’s wife, Cassie, also played in the Symphonic Winds and other ensembles at Heights High, and served as the marching band’s drum major (student leader). And, while I’m at it, both of my parents performed on that stage as well, as part of the choir (my mother) and band (my father); and my much-younger brother, Noah, performed in a lot of plays while there, as well concerts with the choir, of which he was the student conductor.

As an adult, I spoke from that stage about 15 times, presenting Friends of Cain Park arts scholarships on Senior Awards nights. Every time, my speech was a variation of the theme that the Heights Choir saved my life, and that every year, at least one of the arts taught at the school saves at least one kid, or, at least, provides the incentive for them to finish high school.

A few weeks ago, my son’s daughter, Westin, made her first appearance on that stage, as part of the Fairfax Cabaret, a talent show her elementary school presents every two years. She was part of the Dobama Playwriters group of second-through-fifth-graders, who met after school once a week, for several weeks, to learn about playwriting from an actor associated with Dobama Theatre, a professional theater company located right down the street from Fairfax school. Westin’s group demonstrated how they might express various emotions or objects with their own human “statues,” as called out by another Dobama professional. Kids in Cleveland Heights are pretty lucky to have so many arts organizations and artists of every kind all around.

Many kids participated—singing, dancing—including the comedy duo I mentioned above. I was amazed at a kindergartner who sang “Tomorrow” from "Annie," and did it unshyly, but, most impressively, completely in tune, including several key changes she had to navigate. Also impressive were a sister and brother (first-grade violinist and fourth-grade pianist), who played a movement from a violin concerto. Later the boy played a Bach piano prelude. A father and daughter played a trumpet duet.

The show started with a song (“Cabaret,” of course) by Tamar Gray, a professional singer, who is the school’s music teacher and who served as talent coordinator for this show. She does an amazing job with the students’ concerts at the school. Gray responded to a Facebook post about the event saying, the show “brought me so much joy, and is a great reminder of who we are as a district and community.” It’s true: There were different generations working and performing together—students, parents, teachers and staff, comprising Blacks, Whites and several nationalities, religions, and maybe even political groups (I say maybe, because it IS Cleveland Heights . . . .)

Two Heights “Tigers” came out and did a dance and then joined a group of Fairfax parents and teachers for another dance. One of those tigers was Westin's (and Baxter’s) mother, Cassie, who teaches at Heights High. At the end, Gray also led a group of Fairfax parents, teachers and other staff members in a dance, and then all of the evening’s performers in a closing number, the Fairfax school song, “Positive.”

My grandson, kindergartner Baxter, was not a performer in the show, but he and Westin had artworks—which they created in an after-school art class they both take once a week—on display in the accompanying art exhibit in the lobby. Baxter also had another piece in the program book.

The entire Heights High building underwent a massive renovation a few years ago, so it’s like a brand-new school inside. The auditorium was beautifully restored, and enhanced with elements like a dedicated sound board and light rigging, plus many other improvements, including dressing rooms backstage (we used to have to make costume changes out in the hall behind the auditorium).

When I attended Heights High, I hated almost everything about the place except the auditorium and the Choir Room. Both of those places are much improved now. I’m looking forward to the time when Westin and Baxter attend Heights High.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

Read More on Songs and Stories
Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:55 AM, 04.02.2023