No Mistake on This Lake (Go Cavs)

PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland, Ohio

PlayhouseSquare. No mistake. It is one word these days. A brand, a campaign, a trend, and a success story from the belly of the steel belt-turned rust belt-phoenix forwarded to the premier American Theatre vortex after Broadway. What? Cleveland? That grey and cold wasteland of blue-collar memories? Cleveland? The butt of every civic joke? Face it. Pittsburgh? Not funny. Baltimore? Not funny. Cleveland? Hah!

I grew up in Northeastern Ohio. Jim Brown was my hero and the Cleveland Browns my mythology. But Cleveland? The river was a fire hazard. No kidding! This is not an attempt at humor. In the height of industrial negligence, the Cuyahoga River would flame up from excessive pollution. Excessive? The river was on fire. What a municipal memento at the mouth of Lake Eire.

Then there was Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the true and legitimate “Mistake on the Lake”. Any old-timer will tell you how cold, ill-designed and downright nasty this dump was.

Exodus to the suburbs, slum-lording, the rise of television and a host of other factors rusted out the guts of this proud metropolis until Cleveland actually lived up to its moniker, THE Mistake on the Lake.

But, maybe it’s the Ohio winter, or the love of football, or the resilient way of Midwestern Americans. Whatever the case, this tough town that was living up to the tag on its Terminal Tower came roaring (alright, more like limping) back. Like Bo and Woody in a 3 yard cloud of dust, the small Lakefront trading post named after General Moses Cleaveland (that spelling is NOT a mistake either) in 1796 methodically rushed from 1st down to 1st down until they scored with the world class Cleveland Symphony, a new stadium, resurrection of a warehouse area known as “The Flats” and a bunch of other stuff. AND THE CAVS!

Plus Play House Square. Oops. Mistake.

A team of visionaries, artists and business types who still knew the value of performance art took Ohio, State, Hanna, Allen, and Connor into the huddle. No, not the Buckeyes, 2 players, and a cheerleader! Between 13th and 17th Streets on Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland were 5 theatrical temples: Ohio, State, Hanna, Allen Theatres, and Connor Palace. 13. An unlucky number in the USA. 17. Just as unlucky in Italy. No wonder these architectural marvels were moments away from the wrecking ball in the 1970’s.

Patience, tenacity, resolve, resources and perseverance was the game plan and “Touchdown”, Playhouse Square of boarded up movie houses became PlayhouseSquare, the 2nd City for American Theatre. Take that you Chicago Bears. Oh, the Windy City is Midwestern too? Just kiddin’ yoos guys.

Ok, enough of the football metaphors. The point is a piazza is precious to any community, even a rough and rugged one. The magic on Euclid between lucky 13 and 17 is a testament to that and to a success story that is the envy of any community under the not so bright light of urban blight.

If people outside Italy can call Piazza San Pietro,”St. Peter’s Square” even though there is nothing square about Bernini’s elliptical design, then I say, “Welcome to Piazza di Playhouse, Commune di Cleveland, Regione Ohio”.

Not so long ago, I never boasted my roots. The decade in NYC and my world travels always seemed a more attractive device in my insecure need to be awed.

“You are in performance art and show business? Great. From Ohio? Near Cleveland? Yeah Right!”

Who is going to take a Northeast Buckeye Song and Dance Man seriously?

Plus, I could never go home to that cultural wasteland. What would an actor, director, professor, Edu-tainer do in Ohio? “Ice Cold Beer Here”.

Then I would meet Midwestern visitors here in Rome, or interact with them during hometown visits, or read about the correction of “Mistakes on the Lake” and elsewhere. Solid people. Family and community oriented. Heck, I forgot that 8 presidents came from Ohio, more than any other State. And Ohio is the vortex of electoral madness every 4 years. Why?  Pundits start polling for the next POTUS (President of the United States for you missed inane acronym class). Being from Ohio is cool. Who knew? Scusa, GO CAVS!

Watch out World!  Here I come to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame down the road in Canton and…THE one word that sums it all up for me…PlayhouseSquare. Oh yes, and LONG REIGN KING JAMES, GO CAVS!

Hope they accept my doorman application. Where did I put that winter coat?shaker.Ohio_Theater_Marquee

Shameful snatching of a Marquis Posting in PlayHouseSquare.

Like to say they did it for me. Great show Biz Lie!


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Tom was born Thomas James Shaker on August 13, 1952, to Mary Katherine Christopher Shaker (daughter of Italian immigrants) and Mitchell Francis Shaker (son of Lebanese immigrants) in the town of Niles, Ohio. He is the fifth of eight children. He scored the lead role in his kindergarten play Frosty the Snowman and never looked back. Throughout his 12-year parochial education, Tom mixed high academic marks with countless arts, sports, and student government activities. This culminated with his becoming a participant, then counselor and finally consultant to the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and its affiliates in Ohio (OASC) and Pennsylvania (PASC). Tom also was selected and participated in the Buckeye Boys State leadership conference sponsored by the State of Ohio. He continued these activities as he prepared for undergraduate school. Entering Kent State University in September 1970, Tom immediately became involved with activities surrounding the tragic campus shootings the previous May 4. He was a founding member of the Candlelight Vigil Committee and continued to work with the Centre for Peaceful Change. From 1970-74, Tom produced many theatrical works off campus while performing in university theatre department plays. He was inducted into three honoraria and given the Senior Service Award. Tom graduated with countless student activity, government and Arts credits highlighted by his work as the publisher for the Chestnut Burr Yearbook and Kent Stater Campus Newspaper. Tom earned his AEA Actors' Equity Association Card (the union for professional stage actors) in the summer of 1974 as the third cowboy from the left in Oklahoma and fourth Buddhist from the right in The King and I. He was accepted to Akron University Law School, attending in the fall of 1974. But, the draw to the arts was too strong and he left law school to continue his main pursuit, the stage. Tom spent 1975 as a teaching consultant for the Portage County Schools, filming and coaching teachers on classroom presentation and speaking techniques. He began his Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, autumn, 1976. Again Tom graduated with high marks and a series of honors in spring, 1978, most notably serving as President of the Michigan Union. He also worked on a graduate school scholarship as a counselor in the University Admissions Office. Tom simultaneously spent those years in Ann Arbor battling Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer that warranted his regular sessions of MOPP Chemotherapy throughout his academic tenure at the U of M. With diploma in hand and a clean bill of health, Tom moved to Detroit and spent twelve years distinguishing himself as an actor, director, producer and Edu-Tainer. He earned union membership in Screens Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers (AFTRA). His countless commercial, industrial and film credits included national spots for General Motors, the voice for Cadillac and a role in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. He also formed his production company, staging dozens of musicals including Fiddler on The Roof, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma…and touring schools with creative interpretations of classic works from Shakespeare to Aesop to Dickens. His Edu-Tainment company created an improvisational concept called Storybuilding where student stories and ideas were brought to life before the entire school assembly of their peers, thus building creative writing interest, literacy skills, and self-esteem. He even developed a school outreach program for McDonalds Corporation and actually portrayed the character Ronald McDonald for the dozen years he spent in Detroit. He also served as a board member for The Ronald McDonald Houses (RMC) in both Ann Arbor and Detroit and was a consultant to Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities (RMCC) at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Broadway had always been beckoning. In 1991, Tom moved to NYC and spent another decade in countless film, television, theatre and Edu-Tainment projects. Productions included Law and Order, Ransom, 15 Minutes, Die Hard III and a critically acclaimed showcase of his original musical Birdsville ,(adapted from the Aristophanes farce), staged at the Kauffman Theatre on 42nd Street. In 2000, Tom travelled to Rome, Italy in search of his Italian heritage. A two-week vacation turned into a change of continents and he is now a dual citizen commuting between The Eternal City and The Big Apple. He is Dottore Shaker in Italy, Director of Performing and Visual Arts Education, consulting at Sapienza Roma I University and Link Campus University. He is also a member of the USO committee in Rome, serves as a volunteer warden for the American Embassy, and is a past president of the American International Club of Rome (AICR). He has spent countless hours on various sets and sound stages including Cinecitta, “Hollywood on the Tiber”. Mel Gibson selected Tom for the role of Eyepatch in The Passion of the Christ. Then, the Cinecitta Jerusalem of Gibson became the Roman Forum for HBO and Tom was cast for recurring appearances in the drama mini-series, Rome. He is the Court Lictor in the episode titled Spoils. In Italy, Tom is writing his books, At Home in Rome, 24 Hours in… and Italy with Tom Shaker. He is scouting for his documentary Film "Kissa Grandpa" and producing/singing an album of new jazz standards with his band, "Tom and the Cats", featuring his original tunes, Bella Roma and Italiano-Americano. He has produced and recorded the album, Giggin’ with God, in the Vatican City studios. Tom has completed principal photography for the first fifteen episodes of his International media project, Where in the World with Tom Shaker, Rome 360º, the Churches. He has completed the pilot for his wine series, In Vino Veritas, as well. In Paris, France, Tom co-wrote, shot and starred in the TV series, Forget About It (Fugedaboudit), the story of a bar/diner owner and his screwy clientele. The show was accepted and showcased at the Hollywood Film Festival in December 2012. Works in Progress include: • In Vino Veritas / 30-minute episode series about wines of the world • 24 hours in… / a look at Piazza, Square and Centers around the Globe • Post Production, Rome 360º, Season I • Pre-Production, Season II, Rome 360º, March 2013 • Episode and distribution development for Forget About It 2016 will see the completion of his latest screenplays, The Siege of Malta and Roma Rewrite. Finally, Tom keeps busy in Italy lecture-guiding friends, colleagues, and referrals around the entire boot and islands.

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