Columbus, Ohio USA
Return to Homepage www.shortnorth.com
Goodbye 2Co's - We'll Miss You!
by Karen Edwards
Return to Features Index
2Co's Annual Fall Fireball Fundraiser 2004 Committee. Standing: Megan Overholt, Katy Psenicka, chris Lynch, Tom Cardinal, Matthew Hahn, Jennifer Hahn, David Whitehouse, christina Conner. Kneeling: Amy Lay, Carrie Lynn McDonald, Jimmy Mak.
Every time a business shuts its doors in the Short North, it seems as though a piece of the neighborhood’s soul goes with it.
That seems especially true of the closing of 2Co’s Cabaret, 790 N. High Street, which will shut its doors for the last time on February 25.
The Short North has incubated a number of theater companies which have come and gone from the area. The Contem-porary Theatre Company (CATCO) grew up here. Red Herring performed out of the now re-developed Short North Playhouse where the innovative troupe BlueForms also got its start. Bread and Circus Theatre performed out of the Short Stop Youth Center, but that company moved out to the suburbs earlier this year. Only Columbus Children’s Theatre, Center Stage Players (which performs out of the Axis nightclub) and 2Co’s Cabaret remain…
…And then there were two.
What seems most poignant about the loss of 2Co’s is that it’s a permanent loss. It’s not a move or a restructuring. Once it’s gone, its unique blend of music and entertainment will simply disappear. The cabaret on High Street was one of a kind, and while its sister troupe, Shadowbox Cabaret, may ease some of the pain of its diehard fans, the fact is 2Co’s is different from Shadowbox – softer, more eclectic. Like the area that surrounds it.
Of course, the Short North was 2Co’s adopted neighborhood.
Shadowbox, 2Co’s front-runner, was founded by executive producer Steve Guyer. What began as a theater troupe presenting Guyer’s rock operas in the Buggyworks Building downtown evolved into a company that seemed to do a little bit of everything.
The popularity of Shadowbox drove the search for a larger space to accommodate the crowds, and ultimately the group settled on a warehouse on Spring Street. It was meant to be a forever-home – until flames devoured it one night.
Guyer had already been negotiating to expand his company to the ‘burbs. Easton Town Center came calling, and Guyer knew an opportunity when he saw it, but he really wanted to maintain a downtown presence.
“We were emotionally tied to the downtown area,” Guyer explains.
The property at 790 High Street looked like a good fit.
“The building had been a lot of things before we moved into it,” says the company’s public relations director Katy Psenicka. “It was a pizza shop, and a place where they fixed old motorcycles.”
When 2Co’s moved in, “there weren’t many walls,” Psenicka recalls. “It looked like what it had been, an open garage.”
Still, the place had electricity and plumbing, and the landlord had recently refurbished the space, so 2Co’s troupe moved in and opened its doors Oct. 1, 2000.
“We were still putting things together right until our opening night performance,” says Tom Cardinal, 2Co’s general manager.
But the performance itself went off without a hitch – and the company has never looked back.
In fact, it quickly became a part of the Short North landscape. Maybe it was the addition of the beautifully landscaped dooryard garden – created by Guyer, a landscape architect before becoming a performer and theater administrator.
More than likely, though, it was the consistently good shows and the likeable people who performed them that made the little theater fit right in.
Favorite performers, past or present?
Steve Guyer: Gail Griffith, Rebecca Gentile
Katy Psenicka: Joe Lorenza, Pam Callahan, Chris Lynch
Tom Cardinal: Any one of our lead guitarists.
Chris Lynch, a 2Co's favorite.
Today, 2Co’s company consists of 16 ensemble members, a drop in the bucket considering that Shadow East LLC, the for-profit company that oversees Shadowbox Cabaret at Easton Town Center, and the non-profit Shadowbox in Newport, Kentucky, boasts a total of about 80 company members.
After the Spring Street fire, it would have been easy enough for Guyer to bounce his Easton gang back and forth between the two venues, but he elected to form the for-profit Shadow East and allow the already existing non-profit company, ShadoArt Productions, to oversee 2Co’s operation.
“Anyone who knows me knows my views on government support of the arts,” Guyer explains. “But I felt it was greedy to have the government support both companies, so I formed the for-profit when we moved to Easton.”
Besides, Guyer adds, the troupe at that time had its heart set on two companies.
“Initially, 2Co’s was going to serve as training ground for new Shadowbox talent,” says Psenicka.
But the Short North theater took off right from the start, and new, fledgling Shadowbox talent was eventually shipped off to Shadowbox’s “Lunch Box” series to test their wings.
2Co’s best-attended show?
Guyer, Cardinal and Psenicka respond the same: 2Co’s Got the Blues and the Christmas show featuring the first appearance of the Christmas Queenies.
Throughout its history, the Shadowbox company has been through what Psenicka calls “every iteration” possible – performing jazz, blues, comedy skits, plays, one-acts, and rock operas. From the start, however, 2Co’s has always stayed with theatrical shorts, amplified acoustic music – and poetry. “We’re probably the only theater company in town that regularly includes poetry in the mix,” adds Guyer.
Whatever the combination, 2Co’s found a following in the Short North – and it’s fair to say that the patrons who frequent 2Co’s are as fun and funky as the neighborhood around it. Demographically, patrons run the gamut from high school and early college age students – who are known to show up with Rice Krispie treats for the cast – to older women who have christened themselves “Dinner Divas.”
“We have patrons who come here with their kids,” says Lydia Tew, a Shadowbox ensemble performer for the past eight years, and a 2Co’s performer for about a year and a half.
And while members of the surrounding gay community often attend 2Co shows, 2Co’s has never become a completely gay venue. That’s probably because the audience is simply too diverse – and, one might add, unpredictable.
“Every year, the Christmas Queenies bring an audience member up on stage for some audience participation,” says Cardinal.
Last year, a woman who regularly attends 2Co’s shows insisted that her son be the Queenies pick.
“He was miserable,” says Cardinal. “He sat through the whole thing like a bump on a log, but his mother was loving it. She had brought a camera and recorded the whole thing. She said she was seeking revenge for the time he had volunteered her for audience participation.”
Then, there was the Halloween show attended by a patron who happened to live just two blocks from the theater. During intermission, he left, went home, and returned to the theater in costume.
“We had to ask him what he was,” says Cardinal.
Turns out, during intermission, he had suddenly become a foot.
Favorite 2Co’s show?
Cardinal: Private Wars, and from Twisted Tales ‘04 Lurker and Superman in a Nursing Home.
Guyer: From the first blues show, Killer Blues.
Tew: Compatible from Friends and Lovers
Psenicka: Lost Lands
If there is one thing that distinguishes a 2Co’s show from a Shadowbox show, it’s the (for want of a better word), gentleness of the performances.
“The shows aren’t as raucous as the ones at Shadowbox,” explains Guyer. “We’re able to produce more subtle shows here. More emotional stuff.”
Shadowbox is all about comedy sketches – penned by the company’s five writers. At 2Co’s, however, the performances almost always come from existing material, and can be as sweet and touching as they are (often) outrageously funny.
Most touching 2Co’s show?
Guyer: Nietzchke Ate Here (About a wife who slowly discovers her husband is gay.)
Cardinal: Bucket of Moon (The relationship between a firefighter and his wife. The firefighter’s brother had been instrumental in the rescue efforts of 9/11.) “I had a patron tell me after seeing the show that he could identify with it. His brother had been instrumental in the 9/11 rescue efforts.”
Psenicka: Class Dismissed (About a teacher who was accused of having a relationship with a male student.) “A patron told me he had been accused of the same thing, and it had ruined his career.”
Tew: Killer Blues (About a homeless woman on the subway.)
Lydia Tew and Tom Cardinal in Compatible, Tew's favorite 2Co's show,
from Friends and Lovers.
Of course, not every show at 2Co’s is a winner. Sometimes, things simply go wrong.
The Short North power grid, for example, is infamous for unexpected (and often ill-timed) blackouts.
It happened once, during the Chinese Café song which closed the show Cycle of Life. The lights simply went dark.
“The play was about death, a journey from birth to death, so the audience just thought we had devised a fitting end,” says Cardinal.
The blackout that occurred during a production of David Ives’s Time of Your Life – about the short dating/mating span of two May flies – however, didn’t fare quite so well.
“We knew there were power problems, so we were doing an abridged version of it,” recalls Cardinal. The only real problem they ran into was the need for deep frog sounds at some point during the play. The electronic frog noise was obviously not going to happen.
“So, we had someone with a flashlight and a script follow along and shout out ‘Ribbit, ribbit’ when we came to the frog sounds,” Cardinal says. “The audience loved it.”
Missed cues sometimes presented problems as well. Tew tells of an extended smoke break for one actress during the play Mickey’s Teeth. The explosive end of the play fizzled when the bomb-crazy, would-be perpetrator found herself without a victim. “You could hear high heels clicking offstage as she (the victim) ran to make her cue,” Tew says.
And Cardinal recalls a time during one of the Christmas shows when he had to age himself through makeup – quickly.
“I thought I made my cue, but when I arrived, no one was on stage,” says Cardinal. The actors who should have been there had freaked and left the stage. They wandered back on just as Cardinal wandered off to look for them. “We eventually met up – on stage,” he says.
Ah, the joys of live theater.
Other times, the show itself just wasn’t up to typical 2Co’s standards.
It didn’t happen often, but Guyer says probably the most difficult 2Co’s show to watch was the Country Fried show.
“Every piece in that show was subtle, and that’s difficult to play,” Guyer says.
The script (or song) I wish I’d written
Cardinal: Superman in a Nursing Home. “I wish I could write something that clever.”
Guyer: Private Wars
Tew: In Spite of Ourselves (a song)
Psenicka: Lurker. “It’s been performed at all four of our theaters.”
2006 2Co's crew.
“The second worst thing about closing 2Co’s is having to leave the Short North,” says Guyer. “This is where we’d like to be. There’s energy here, a vitality.”
But the Short North has also become more “gentrified.” That’s Guyer’s word for the recent influx of development in the area. Suddenly, places with affordable prices that would allow a budding artist – or acting troupe – to develop their potential have soared in value. Rents have climbed skyward.
“We just never reached the critical mass we needed to here,” notes Guyer.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. The 2Co’s gang has been an ever-present fixture of the Short North Gallery Hops.
“It’s not really busking, but we always made sure we had a guitar and accordion player out there calling attention to the shows,” says Cardinal.
The company’s street marketing included fire barrels, selling hot chocolate, passing out flyers.
But that critical mass, the one that would keep 2Co’s in business, proved elusive.
“The economy isn’t great right now,” Guyer says.
People are opting to pay their heating bills rather than attend live theater. Columbus isn’t different from any other city in that respect, notes Guyer.
What will you miss most about 2Co’s?
Guyer: The grittiness of downtown. Easton is Disneyland in comparison. The eclectic clientele. My garden.
Cardinal: The feeling when you leave that you’re getting outside and going somewhere. I’ll miss the windows.
Tew: The space. I love the art gallery upstairs. I was married up there. I had my daughter’s birthday up there.
Psenicka: I’ll miss the fact that we can perform more subtle and dramatic works as an ensemble.
“I hope the Short North remembers us as good neighbors,” says Cardinal.
“I hope when people remember 2Co’s, they remember a quality theater where professional artists were always striving to put their best foot forward,” says Guyer.
What’s next for everyone?
Tom: I’ll continue to perform and serve as recruiting manager for the company. It will be a big shift. It’s been a while since I’ve done sketch comedy.
Guyer: Shadowbox is planning to produce a musical, the rock opera Tommy. It will allow us to use Shadowbox on another day of the week, because the performance will be on a Sunday. And it gives us another performance form to try.
Tew: My day jobs will stay the same. And I’ll continue to perform. Like Tom, though, it’s been a while since I’ve done sketches.
Psenicka: Not much changes. I’m still general manager at Shadowbox, and the company’s public relations director.
Guyer expects attrition will make 2Co’s layoffs easier – maybe even unnecessary.
“We’ve already lost a number of staff without saying boo to anyone,” he says.
As for patrons who haven’t yet made it to 2Co’s for final farewells, you have one more chance. The company will perform “The Best of 2Co’s” in early January.
The sunset show will be closed, however – open by special invitation only – to past performers, special patrons, the media.
“We’re going to make it a wake,” says Guyer. “We’re going to lay out a spread, and make it a place to reminisce and say goodbye.”
Cardinal says he’s already been at the wake. He went there, mentally, several months ago, and worked through his emotions.
“I think I’ll be all right by then,” he says.
Tew’s looking forward to meeting and catching up with previous 2Co’s performers. “It will be like a class reunion,” she says.
“It will be tough,” says Guyer. “It’s going to be tough. My worst nightmare is coming back to this space some day and finding my garden gone and a parking lot in its place.”
Guyer may not realize the metaphor, but it’s there, and any 2Co’s, theater or Short North lover will recognize it immediately.
It’s that feeling that a tiny piece of your soul has broken off – and disappeared forever.
On Wednesday, January 11, 2006, 2Co’s Cabaret, 790 North High Street, will open its final production, The Best of 2Co’s and the Blues, a collection of the ensemble’s most popular short plays, monologues and music that celebrates 2Co’s five-year journey of exploration into the spirit of the human condition. The Best of 2Co’s and the Blues will run every Thursday through Saturday until February 25. Tickets range from $10 - $20. For more information and reservations call 614-265-7625 or visit the 2Co’s page at www.shadowboxcabaret.com
©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.